Many divorcing couples are keen to get Christmas over and done with, especially parents who they find it difficult to agree child contact arrangements over the festive period.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Separated parents need to plan with extra special care to make Christmas a great time for children but that does not mean that the children must split the festive season across two households. One serving of brussel sprouts at Christmas is more than enough for any child!

Separated couples should start planning their Christmas childcare arrangements early to avoid arguments and upsets later. There are simple ways to make Christmas merry, even when the whole family is not together.

Many families have established arrangements which work very well, often alternating where the children spend Christmas day year on year. For the newly separated, this will be unchartered water and the first Christmas apart can be a testing time.

As with all family matters putting the needs of the children first is paramount. Whilst it is understandable that both parents may want to be with their children over the festive period, couples who argue will unwittingly risk harming their children.

Only rarely should such disputes require the intervention of the Court. With sensitive handling and a little bit of forethought, everyone can enjoy a relaxing break over Christmas. In tricky circumstances, solicitors and mediators can help parents agree on a formula that works for them and the following guidelines may be helpful:-

  • You may no longer be together but you are both still parents and should think about your childrens’ needs first. Talk about arrangements together, with a view to sharing both the pleasure and the responsibility Try to consider the arrangements from your childrens’ perspective.
  • Don’t ask your children to choose between you. This risks putting the responsibility on them when the adults should make those difficult decisions. Do allow them to express opinions about how they want to spend their time.
  • Be practical and consider contingencies, such as bad weather and traffic, which might affect your contact arrangements.
  • Be prepared to compromise and try not to compete. Practical consideration such as co-ordinating Christmas presents may also go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary upsets.

Ho, ho, ho not Oh, no, no

Couples who want to separate are obliged to be assessed to see if mediation is the best way of arranging parenting issues. It can be much quicker and cheaper. In the vast majority of cases it works. 2 out of 3 couples who start mediation reach a settlement.