Separated at Christmas?

Family|December 27th 2015

Consider this:

Dear Santa

My name is Holly and I am 7. This year I would like a Karaoke machine. I would also like Disney Infinity for the Xbox but most of all I want mummy to stop crying and daddy to stop shouting. I don’t think they like each other anymore and that makes me sad. Daddy doesn’t sleep here anymore. Miss fig, my teacher says that you are smart and that you can keep an eye on everyone so that you know where to go. Is that true? I want to see my daddy but mummy says that if I stay with daddy on Christmas Eve, you won’t come to me. I want things to go back to normal but mummy says that they can’t. Mummy says that daddy has been naughty this year and that he won’t get any presents but I don’t think he has. She thinks that daddy should be punished but I don’t know why. I miss him. I see him sometimes but he doesn’t smile any more. He always looks angry. He tells me secrets which I am not allowed to tell anyone about. They are usually about mummy but mummy also tells me secrets that I cannot tell anyone about and they are usually about daddy. I like keeping secrets but these ones make me feel bad. Oh yeah please can I also have a talking Olaf from Frozen. My friend Donnah has one and its really cool.


Love Holly


For some parents, this will be difficult to swallow. For others, it will not ring true. Separation can be difficult for children to understand and often they are the ones that are caught in the middle.

Aside from the religious connotations, Christmas is for children. It is supposed to be magical and exciting. Children are precious and they only have one childhood. They will soon grow up and realise that Santa is not real. Whilst they are young it is really important that they get to have the best possible time they can.

Both parents will inevitably want to have their children with them for Christmas so that they can watch their faces light up on Christmas morning. There is nothing wrong with this. However, some parents will want to ensure that the other parent doesn’t get to see them as a means of punishment. Where there is acrimony, parents can often forget that children are not supposed to witness arguments about who will have them on Christmas morning. They forget that they should not be made aware of one parent’s feelings about the other and sometimes they forget that the best presents are supposed to be from Santa. It is not a competition.

The deepest concern for parents should be their children’s happiness. Involving them in disputes can cause emotional harm. This must be avoided at all costs.

In order to give children the best chance of happiness at Christmas and throughout the year, communication between the parents is key. Early planning is also very helpful. Parents need to ask themselves what is right for these particular children. At Christmas, parents should consider whether the children would be happier spending one year waking up in one of their homes and the next year waking up in their other home. Alternatively, is it better for these children to see both of their parents on Christmas day? What about the wider family arrangements for both sides of the family? Shouldn’t the children enjoy time with both families? If the relationship between parents is amicable, can they spend Christmas together for the sake of the children without causing confusion or exposing the children to confrontation?

Whatever you decide, it is not going to be perfect for everyone. It may not even be perfect for the children. There will always be some upset when their parents are separated but it is crucial that parents try to ensure that they make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Some parents will ask children what they want and some children will say one thing to one parent and something completely different to the other. This is typical because they want to please both of their parents. So it is never appropriate to rely solely on what the children have said and use it as a stick with which to beat the other parent.

Where an agreement cannot be reached for whatever reason, heartache, anger and legal fees are likely to follow. If negotiations between solicitors do not lead to a suitable arrangement, the next stage could be to consider whether an application to the Court for an Order should be made. However, by December, it is often not possible to get the case heard before Christmas. It is then for the parties to try and make the best of a bad situation. The onus must be on the parents acting reasonably and in the best interests of their children

Now consider this:

Dear Santa

My name is Holly and I am 7. This year I would like a Karaoke machine. I would also like Disney Infinity for the Xbox but most of all I want some glittery ice skates. Miss fig, my teacher says that you are smart and that you can keep an eye on everyone so that you know where to go. Is that true? I am going to be staying with my mummy this year. I stayed with daddy last year. My mummy told me that she had made sure you knew where I would be last year to deliver my presents but I was really happy when you delivered some to mummy’s and some to daddy’s. Can you do that again this year? Pleeeeeease? Oh yeah please can I also have a talking Olaf from Frozen. My friend Donnah has one and its really cool.


Love Holly


Surely this letter to Santa is preferable to the one at the beginning of this article? Holly’s parents still do not like each other and do not agree on everything but they do have one common aim – to make sure that Holly is not affected by the breakdown in their relationship.

Make Christmas fun and put aside your own differences for the sake of your children. Not only would the children enjoy Christmas but it is likely to be less chaotic and more enjoyable for you all.

Have a very happy Christmas!

Jennifer has experience in most areas of family law, in particular with cases involving children disputes (including international children disputes) and/or domestic violence.

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  1. Andy says:

    After the first two lines, I read the scenario.Mummy to stop crying and Daddy shouting…
    this seem to be the basis of all divorces.
    What about Daddy crying and Mummy shouting..would that be a different view..what do you think now..
    This is where it is fundamental incorrect.
    what about rising statistics in violence to men from women and yet this is still beleives as incorrect.
    I did not carry on with the blog as I have said.
    Usual one way traffic.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Andy
      Thanks for this. I didnt write this post and everyone is entitled to an opinion. The scenario Jen Hollyer writes about however, is very common and I think she covers the situation very well with some pragmatic common sense advice both parents. She would because she’s a good well grounded family lawyer.
      If you take a look at the blog in depth you will see I have stood up against some fierce opposition, on behalf of both men and women. It’s not a one sex v the other situation it’s not a one way street.

      • spinner says:

        In order to illustrate that and to provide balance why not have a similar blog post illustrating how women abuse their partners, I would expect this piece to also include how when men complain they are treated as a joke and how high profile women who admit to physically hitting their partner are not shamed or ostracised in the same way that a man physically hitting their partner would rightly be.

  2. stitchedup says:

    How’s about this for an alternative scenario….

    Dad phoned nan on the anniversary of my gramps death to check she was OK. Christmas was approaching and dad asked nan what her plans were. Nan told Dad that she and my aunty were at a loose end so Dad asked mum if it would be Ok if nan and my aunty could spend Christmas with us. When Dad asked mum became very angry so dad told nan it didn’t look like she was welcome. Mum didn’t speak to dad for 3 days so dad asked mum what the problem was. Mum again became very angry and said to dad “perhaps its the thought of spending another Christmas with you and your f….ing familly!!!”……. And so the story goes on

  3. The Devil's Advocate says:

    What more do we want to happen as this cycle of repression because paraphrasing Sir James Munby in April 2015; “parents must show responsibility to each other as much as their children”.

    Anachronistic and failed legislation of 2014 illustrates that this society wishes to continue to abuse children psychologically because it is “fun to do so”.

    I am sending a copy of this site to my professional colleagues in Family Support groups in Mexico City and Brazilia. They will be disturbed that a country as culturally as rich as England and Wales can live with such anachronistic and abusive based legislation which exists and prevents all members of families being unequivocally parentally responsible and have the unmitigating rights under law to enact such realities for the best benefits of our children which the amended letter professed.

    Grow up England and Wales and change the bl___dy legislation!

  4. Luke says:

    I don’t think that this little girl’s letter to Santa highlighted by Jennifer Hollyer is anti-male – in fact if you read the conduct of both parents as written by ‘Holly’ then I would suggest that the mother’s conduct comes out as much worse.
    I would also add though that the idea that the vast majority of divorced parents are going to put the welfare of their child above the enmity they feel for each other is unrealistic. Depressing – but I think it’s clearly true.

  5. Andrew says:

    This comes close to home and the anonymity of online makes it possible for me to explain why. It does not concern clients; it concerns my nephew “Jack”, his partner “Jill”, and their four-year-old “Charlie”.

    Last spring Jack bought a house, outright, in his own name. The money came from my sister and brother-in-law who did a major downsizing and could spare the cash to pay for a three-bedroom-and-garden in a cheap area; they had already done a great deal for my niece and this seemed fair. Not one penny piece came from Jill or her family who are the sort of people whom in less enlightened days we called “feckless”.

    In summer Jill broke it up with Jack; I don’t know the background except that in all the venomous posts she put on Facebook she never alleged that he had been violent to her, let alone to Charlie. I have sedulously refrained from advising and Jack has sedulously refrained from asking me to; but of course I can see the legal position.

    Over the next weeks and months relationships became very difficult. Jack is maintaining Charlie as per CMEC guidelines – he is self-employed and could probably evade it but that’s not his way – but he won’t maintain Jill. There were difficulties about contact and at handover Jill would not allow Jack past his own front door even to use the loo. Jack had found a flat.

    Christmas looked like being a nightmare of its own. Jack’s parents live 120 miles from Jack and Jill and Jill did not want him to have even one overnight, so that he could not take him to see them. (Part of her bitterness is that he has a car and she doesn’t – but she can’t drive!) In the end she so far relented as to agree two nights from Sunday which made it just feasible. Meanwhile she was sitting tight in the house.

    You can imagine that Charlie was not coping too well. He started at full-time school in September and Jack had had to warn the head-teacher in writing that he is on the birth certificate, has parental responsibility, and does not want Charlie called by any but his name, which he was registered with and which is the name he has always known.

    And then about three weeks ago the skies cleared. I think she took legal advice and was told that sooner or later, and not much later, she was going to have to leave the house and had no claim on it. Anyway, one evening she rang Jack and told him that she had found somewhere to rent and if he could help clear her things he could have the key to the house the next day. (Typical Jill to expect things to be arranged for her like that.) Jack arranged for his sister, who lives nearby and adores Charlie, to look after him for the day and helped with the move – and got the key back (and changed the lock at once, at his more worldly-wise sister’s suggestion.) He is not going to live there again, too many memories and anyway he is committed to his flat for a year.

    And just after that Jill suggested that Jack take Charlie on Saturday and have three nights. And when he picked him up yesterday morning Jill invited him in and they had a coffee and a civilised chat in Charlie’s presence. So, fingers crossed, we seem to be moving into clearer water where they can get on as separated/estranged/divorced parents should for the benefit of children. And Charlie appears more relaxed and happier.

    But I cannot help thinking that the change would not have happened if they had been married or if we had a law in place to “protect” cohabitees because in that case they would both be looking down the barrel of a bruising and nasty financial argument, and that always poisons relationships. I won’t repeat my views on these matters – you know them. But I feel vindicated.

    • Luke says:

      Well that’s a very irresponsible attitude Andrew, think of all the lawyer fees ‘Jack’ hasn’t had to pay – his side and hers in a bitter ‘drag it out’ full on scrap in court – and that attitude is taking food out of the mouths of ‘poor’ barristers too !
      It’s lucky John Bolch is healthy and above ground – otherwise he would have been spinning in his grave at your appalling lack of thought for others 😀

  6. Nordic says:

    Dear Andrew,
    Thank you for sharing that experience. No doubt you are right that the parents’ relationship, and therefore the wellbeing of their child, would have been seriously jepodised had they been married. I simply cannot understand that anybody seriously can defend the divorce process in this jurisdiction. I obviously appreciate that there are massive financial interests vested in the system and that this colours the views of family law professionals. Yet it also seems to me that there are quite a lot of people out there who genuinely appear to believe that “the interest of the child” truly is the paramount consideration that guides the practice of our family law.
    Am I right, or is it simply money that speaks whenever judges, lawyers and other industry representatives venture their views? And if I am right, can you shed some light on how these people think? How do they reconcile our aggressive and acrimonious divorce process with looking after the interest of children? To me, this is simply incomprehensible.

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