Publish date

3 November 2023

How to agree child arrangements at Christmas

Helen Waite in our Family team answers questions for The Times of Tunbridge Wells.

The shops are full of advent calendars and Christmas decorations and have been for weeks. Have you made your Christmas plans? If you’re separated, with children, Christmas arrangements can be a minefield. Helen Waite in the Family team answers your questions.

How can we agree what happens over Christmas?

The key is to start early, and try to talk to each other directly. The more you can communicate with each other the better for everyone involved. It is also necessary to try and put your personal feelings aside. Christmas is an emotive time of year and not spending all of it with your children can seem heart-breaking and overwhelming, but the most important consideration is what is going to be best for the children? What will they want and need over Christmas? How can they spend time with both parents and wider family, if that’s what they have always known? Sometimes it is just too emotive to be able to agree directly. In those circumstances it might be that mediation with a family lawyer or therapist trained in mediation, can help you to have those direct discussions and reach an agreement that everyone accepts.

What if we can’t agree what happens over Christmas?

If it’s not been possible to agree Christmas arrangements with the other parent, and mediation hasn’t been enough, then taking legal advice may be the next step. Again, doing so sooner, rather than later is key. Both parents could instruct collaborative lawyers and meet together as a four to try and reach an agreement with the lawyers helping. It allows that direct communication but both parties feel safe as they have legal advice throughout and the lawyers work together to help both parents to come to an agreement. If one parent is finding it hard to compromise, then it may be necessary to instruct a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf in letters or by way of a round table meeting. If none of the above options are possible then it may be necessary to make an application to the court. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still reach an agreement, but it gives certainty that if you can’t, the family court will do so.

What if we have separated but still want to spend Christmas together?

That’s absolutely fine and if both parents agree, that can be the arrangement that works for your family unit. As long as spending time together is going to be calm and rewarding for the children, it can become a new tradition with the example set that although their parents aren’t together anymore they can still come together for important family events. Again communication is critical, agree what the arrangements are and understand them. It means they are more likely to go smoothly.

It’s my first Christmas and my children will be with the other parent, I’m not sure what to do?

The first Christmas without your children is hard, there’s a real sense of loss. Make plans, spend time with others, make alternative plans when the children are with you and start new traditions. Sometimes, particularly with younger children, Christmas Eve can be an equally magical day, with the anticipation of the next day. If that is the day the children are with you, start a new tradition, it doesn’t have to be costly, just something they will enjoy and remember and can be continued.


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