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How do separated parents split Christmas?

Christmas arrangements for separated parents can be complex as you navigate how to split Christmas so you can both see your children. The usual plans of Christmases past may no longer be an option, and there’s no blueprint for what the holidays should look like now, or how you make them fair.

There’s a lot to consider. How will the children spend time with each parent? Do divorced parents spend Christmas together? And if not, how do coparents split Christmas?

Before you make a decision

The guiding principle of family law is that children’s well being comes first. Neither parent has more right to see their child at Christmas. The benefit of this is that you and your coparent are free to create a plan that’s centred on your children and their needs.

How do separated parents split Christmas?

Unless you continue to spend Christmas together, there will need to be some compromise about how you divide your time with your kids. Here are some common options.

What are my options for splitting Christmas with my ex?

So, how do you split Christmas when divorced? You and your ex can create a plan that best suits your exact situation, but it’s useful to have a starting point for discussions. Here are some examples:

Option 1: Split Christmas in half

Children get to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent, before swapping over to spend the rest of Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the other.

Depending on when Christmas day lands you might try to align this with your children’s usual routine with each parent. Or you could agree to make an exception and then revert back to your usual routine after the festivities.

Option 2: Take a week each

Children get to spend the first week of the school holidays with one parent to celebrate Christmas, and the second week with the other parents over New Year.

If school holidays stretch over 3 weeks, you could divide the key days and split the rest of the time equally between you.

Option 3: Have two Christmases

Children get to celebrate Christmas twice; once on Christmas Day with one parent, and once on a designated day before or after the 25th December with the other.

While appealing as a solution, it doesn’t altogether remove the question of who gets to spend the real Christmas Day with the children.

Each of these options can be alternated yearly, on rotation.

It’s a useful test to ask yourself if you’d be happy with the plans you’re proposing.

Spending Christmas day with your ex

Spending Christmas Day together with your children and your ex, is a great option if you’re on good terms and means you don’t have to divide the day up.

For separated couples who remain friends, Christmas can be a good opportunity to show that you’re still united as parents.

Before you make the decision, ask yourself if it will create a healthy dynamic on the day for your children and consider whether it risks confusing matters.

If you and your ex live far apart

If you and your ex live far apart, splitting Christmas in half would mean your children spending a proportion of their Christmas Day travelling. Be sure your plan is genuinely prioritising them.

Avoiding Christmas alone

Celebrating Christmas alone isn’t for everyone, so try to ensure that your plan allows enough time for you or your ex to travel to stay with family or friends whilst not with your children.

How about new partners?

Handling Christmas with a blended family comes with additional challenges. There may be differing opinions about whether the children should spend Christmas with a parent and their new partner.

It’s understandable that this situation can stir strong emotions; after all the new partner may get to spend Christmas Day with your children, when you don’t.

However hard it is, prioritising the children’s needs is crucial. It’s wise to approach things as you’d want them to be approached.

Introducing a new partner to children at Christmas isn’t ideal, so collaborating on how and when to introduce any new partners to the children is also essential.

Seeing the wider family

Christmas is often a time for seeing loved ones, such as Grandparents. Try to arrange time for your children to see your wider family during the time they spend with you.

Should separated parents buy joint gifts for their children?

Splitting costs and continuing to buy your children presents ‘from Mum and Dad’ can send a message that they remain central in your lives even though you’re no longer together.

Joint present giving is an especially good idea if you will be spending Christmas day altogether. It also helps to avoid competitive gift giving or one parent trying to win favour with lavish presents.

Agree an overall budget that’s manageable for you both, and the gifts you plan to buy each child. You can also divide the task of buying gifts so that things are equal.

There is the risk that one parent also buys a separate gift ‘just from them’ so be clear about whether this is part of your agreement or not.

Put the plan in writing

Once you and your coparent have reached an agreement, it is a good idea to write it down and send to the other parents via message or email. That way if there are any issues, and misunderstandings, they can be resolved before Christmas.

Stick to the plan

It’s vital that you stick to the Christmas arrangements made so that everyone knows what to expect, including the children. This will encourage ongoing cooperation for future Christmases and special occasions.

Strained relations

You and your ex have been through a lot. It’s understandable that discussions might be difficult, especially if you’re not on good terms or your partner isn’t concerned with keeping things fair.

Remember, you can’t control how your former-partner reacts, you can only control your own words and actions.

During negotiations, communicate with your coparent in person where possible, or speak on a video call or over the phone, where discussions are less likely to be misinterpreted.

What if we can’t reach an agreement about Christmas?

If you reach a stalemate making plans for Christmas with your ex, you can take advice from a family lawyer or family mediator who can help you try to find some common ground.

As a last resort when cooperation is just not possible, you can seek a decision from the family court via a court order called a specific issues order with the help of a specialist family lawyer.

Splitting Christmas after divorce

Dealing with Christmas after separation is difficult. Successfully setting aside your differences and reaching an agreement with your ex on how best to guide your family through the celebrations is something you should be proud of.

Equally, things might not be perfect. And that’s okay too. With ongoing collaboration between you and your ex-partner, you can learn and adjust.

Get in touch

If you and your ex-partner can’t agree on how to split time with your children over Christmas, you can contact our family law team to discuss your options.

Useful links

Making arrangements for children this Christmas

Surviving your first Christmas after separation

Surviving Christmas after separation

Stowe talks – dealing with conflict about Christmas

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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