Christmas, children and co-parenting – top tips for surviving the festive season

The run-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of year in a family lawyer’s calendar. Christmas often becomes a focal point for clients wanting to have their divorce and financial settlement done and dusted or a house purchase completed.

One of the most contentious issues can be arrangements for children over the festive period. Parents often feel strongly about what is “fair” and what they want at Christmas and can often fail to see that life as co-parents involves compromise, even at Christmastime.  Knowing that it’s going to be a difficult issue to discuss, parents often bury their head in the sand and don’t address the C word until the first door on the advent calendar is opened and they realise a visit from Father Christmas is looming on the horizon.

I’ve set out a few tips for successfully navigating your arrangements for the festive season, without taking away the Christmas cheer :

  • Keep things in perspective – the magic surrounding Christmas is for the children and not for the adults – the important thing is that the children have fun and don’t feel stressed or anxious about arrangements. I often see clients getting tied up in their own feelings, rather than thinking about the festivities from the children’s perspective.
  • Be creative about how the time over Christmas is shared – don’t insist on a handover time half-way through Christmas dinner just to be difficult.
  • Think about whether rotating the time each year would work, so the children are settled for Christmas rather than being uprooted half way through celebrations.
  • Communicate with your co-parent – there are lots of events and activities going on – who is going to go to which event? Could you go to the children’s concert or nativity together. Sure, that might be a weird thought, but your children might enjoy seeing mum and dad supporting them together.
  • Talk to each other about presents – who will buy presents from Father Christmas and where will they be opened, is there anything you can buy together, is there a joint list you can give to relatives?
  • Think about how any important traditions within both families can be included within the arrangements – is it important for one family to go to a local carol service or family event, and how can that be honoured?
  • Include plans for New Years’ Eve – perhaps you could rotate that as well? You each deserve to be able to go out on New Years’ Eve if you want to and this may give you a good balance.
  • Don’t ruin the magic by letting the children pick up on any tensions between you and your ex.
  • And remember – it’s just one day. Did the children have a good time? That’s what matters.

People often think that if they can’t agree arrangements between them – whether for a specific occasion like Christmas or a birthday, that a judge will make and order and that’s the decision made for them.

I’d encourage clients to stay out of court wherever they can, but of course, sometimes this won’t be possible.  However it’s important to understand that the judge only has the power to make certain orders, and can’t and won’t spend the time going in to the minutiae of your domestic lives to make a detailed, fool-proof order.

Parents often come to me for advice after an order has been made, frustrated at the grey areas that are not covered by the order, or the different ways in which a judge’s words can be interpreted.

You and your co-parent will understand what is realistically going to work for you and your children and are far better placed to make decisions with them at the heart of them – it is amazing what a sensible conversation can achieve, in far shorter a space of time (and for much less money and heartache) than in a court room.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to put your own feelings to one side, or there may be reasons why you can’t have these discussions with your ex, but a frank chat with a level-headed lawyer that understands the workings of family life  can help you find some creative solutions that work for you and your family.

Need some advice about how to move forward in agreeing arrangements for your children? Get in touch.

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