Child contact over Christmas is a major issue facing divorced or separated families. In the first of a two-part series, solicitor Charlotte Newman looks at it from the perspective of the children. On Boxing Day, solicitor Amy Foweather will examine this emotional topic from the parents’ point of view.
Christmas is synonymous with magic and excitement. It is a time for family traditions to be practised all over the world. Whether that be having a large meal and falling asleep by the fire or playing games and a morning winter walk. However, whilst most are planning for their traditions to unfold in the coming weeks, others are planning how best to split the festive holiday.
Will this year be spent with Dad on Christmas Day? Will Mum pick me up on Boxing Day or will she also want to see my face light up when I open the presents from Santa? Will Santa even know to deliver my presents to both of my parents’ houses?
These questions are all too familiar for children whose parents are divorced. You may be the parents of one of these children and this time of year will also be extremely hard for you, particularly if Christmas is the first holiday following your separation.
Although Christmas can still be a magical and exciting time, it can also instil feelings of guilt and unhappiness in the hearts of children who do not know what to do for the better and do not want to appear to favour one parent over the other. The festive season can stir up a mixture of emotions. They may feel a strong loss of family and whilst the pain of their parents’ break up cannot be taken away, it is imperative that you and your ex manage the holidays in such a way that your children’s perspective on ‘family’ remains positive.
There is no perfect answer as to how best to manage the situation but highlighting the positives of having Christmas either shared between houses or alternated can help put the minds of your children at ease. If you are a parent encountering this difficult time you must try to ensure to keep your children at the heart of any holiday contact arrangements and focus on strengthening relationships and avoiding animosity.
As a family lawyer and as a child of divorced parents, I have listed a few ‘golden tips’ to avoid you pushing yourself into ‘Festive holiday overdrive’:
1) It is important to talk to your children early about how they are going to be spending Christmas. This will give your children time to come to terms with the arrangements. Remember, children are often resilient and silence is not the usually the answer, even if you are simply trying to protect your child from upset.
2) Planning the contact arrangements with your ex-spouse well in advance of Christmas, either directly or with the help of an experienced family lawyer, will lessen the chance of disagreements ensuing. It will also mean that you will have enough time to enlist the help of a solicitor for assistance or, if necessary, to make an application to the Court.
3) If you are not going to be seeing your child on Christmas Day, this will also be a hard day for you. Try to share the celebration together, by a phone call or letter instead of in person. This will help you and your child to feel less anxious about not spending the holiday with you and help them feel connected.
4) Contact arrangements must be stuck to. Your child may have been looking forward to the planned arrangement so deviation from the arrangement may cause your child to be frustrated and disappointed. From a legal perspective, Judges will not think highly of parents who are unreasonable, put their own feelings first and who are not acting in the best interests of their children.
5) Try and talk to your ex-spouse/partner about what presents should be purchased for the children. Most importantly, Christmas should not be a competition and by co-ordinating present giving, you will be able to minimise the tension and any potential conflicts. Children benefit more from this than by having the latest iPhone.
6) Use the New Year to reflect on how the arrangements worked and what could be done differently next year to make sure that Christmas remains a time of magic and excitement.
Finally, you must remember that some traditions have to change and Christmas can be the perfect occasion to take an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ attitude.
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!