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Making arrangements for children this Christmas

Article updated November 2023

With Christmas approaching, if you’ve not already made plans for your children, now’s the time to agree how they will spend time with their other parent during the holidays.

Christmas can be a time of tension for separated parents as they plan childcare during the school holidays and decide where and how they’ll each see the children. 

So, we asked our Regional Director for the North, Rachel Roberts, to share her advice for parents on taking the strain out of making child arrangements for Christmas. 

Child arrangements and Christmas

As we approach December, we usually see a flurry of clients getting in touch for help to try and resolve arrangements for the festive season.

Before I turn to my tips on how best to manage arrangements, there’s a key point that’s at the forefront of my mind when advising clients. In recent years, a leading family judge made it clear that parties should only be bringing disputes over children to court where absolutely necessary.

The judge went on to criticise parents for asking the court to micro-manage children arrangements. The view from the court is clear – where possible you should be sorting these things out between yourselves.

Tips for making child arrangements during Christmas:

Preparation is key

If you do not have plans in place, now is the time to start. Talk to your ex-partner and agree on arrangements that work for you all.

Some clients I have worked with agreed that the children would spend Christmas Eve at one home and then return to the other for lunch on Christmas Day.

Other clients decided that they would spend the whole festive period with one parent and the next year spend it with the other, alternating between the two.

It is a personal choice based on what works for your family, but also the age of the children, location and how amicable you are.

Be prepared to be flexible as plans may need to change.

Focus on the children 

First and foremost, put the children at the heart of the plans you make. A different type of Christmas can still be a good Christmas. Talk about the positive: two Christmas Days, two sets of presents etc.

Make sure you share your plans with the children. Depending on the age of the children, ask them what they would like? Older children need to feel they have a voice.

Once in place, sharing plans with the children means they know where they will be throughout the holiday, and the routine will make them feel safe and secure.

Creating a visual plan can help as dates can be difficult for a child to understand. One client created a Christmas themed wall planner for their younger children. A tech-savvy teenager may prefer a joint Google calendar.

Be fair to the other parent

If this is your first year as a separated parent, this will all feel very raw and difficult. It is likely that you will both be dreading not spending Christmas entirely with your children.

Even though it can be difficult, try to think about the impact of any plans on your former partner. Ask yourself if you would be happy with the proposed arrangements next year? If the answer is no, then maybe they should be reconsidered.

Stick to the plan

This year may require a certain level of flexibility, but where possible, it is important that, whatever arrangements you come to, you both stick to the plan.

Last-minute changes can cause feelings of disruption and uncertainty for children. And, whilst flexibility is an essential part of positive child arrangements, it is important to maintain consistency and provide stability.

Get advice early, if needed

Christmas is chaotic and organising a co-parenting schedule on top of everything else is never going to be easy, especially if communication between you and your ex-partner is difficult.

If you are struggling this year, take advice from a family lawyer who can try to assist in negotiating an agreement.

If you cannot reach an agreement, mediation can help as the presence of a 3rd party often eases tensions and result in finding common ground.

Mediation is still taking place via video conferencing, and many of our clients have reported that it is easier than being in the same room as their former partner.

Court proceedings are possible but should be used as a last resort, and, due to the current strain on courts from the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that you have any prospect of a contested hearing before Christmas.

Hopefully, these tips, combined with some careful planning, compromise and putting the children first,  will help you and your ex-partner move forward towards a harmonious Christmas.

Useful links

Tips for navigating Christmas alone from a divorce coach

Surviving your first Christmas after separation

Watch webinar – Surviving Christmas after separation

Get in touch 

If you would like any advice on child arrangements during Christmas, or other family law issues, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    In my (professional, not personal!) experience it is usually mothers who believe that somehow the children belong with them over Christmas. I have heard a mother insisting that Christmas “will be lonely” without little Johnny, so he has to be with her, with no thought that last year it was lonely for his father. It’s particularly bad when he has started a new family and she has not.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    This year will be the 10th year I’ve not seen or heard of my sons. I understand their mother is now married, no doubt to a man far better than I and most likely with deeper pockets. Would it be possible for someone from Stowe to shed some light as to when women/mothers are able to bury the hatchet and encourage a healthy relationship between children and their father? in my eyes it’s often not so much about what a mother does but what a mother doesn’t do. I assume my ex is now happy and has found what she was looking for, so why persist with the estrangement and bitterness?

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