Dealing with Child Contact Arrangements at Christmas

By Francesca Davey

Senior Associate

Who will the children spend their time with?

Throughout the year the children might spend more time overall with one parent than the other. When it comes to Christmas and other special occasions, the expectation is that the time is shared between the parents so that the children get to celebrate with both. There is no hard and fast rule about this, and a court will always look at what is best for the children. In practice, this might mean:

  • Spending all the celebration days with one parent in one year, and then alternating annually; or
  • Spending Christmas Eve or Boxing Day with one parent and Christmas Day with the other each year; or
  • Splitting Christmas day in half so that Christmas morning and afternoon are divided between the two parents; or
  • Spending the day, or part of the day, all together.

What will work best for you will depend on all sorts of factors, including travelling, relatives, traditions and so on.

What is there to worry about?

The most common issues parents face are:

  • Not being on speaking terms with your ex, so it is impossible to make an agreement about Christmas plans
  • Children spending time with new step-parents or relatives they might not know very well for the first time
  • Travelling times and distances
  • Competition between parents to have the better Christmas or give the better gifts.

These are all factors that can be approached with a bit of planning and co-ordination. If you’re in a position where you can’t speak with the children’s other parent, then get advice from a solicitor as early as you can.

Make arrangements as early as possible

With all the other preparations to be getting on with, you don’t want to be stuck in court on December 24th waiting for last minute decisions to be made about where the children are going to be for Christmas. It is best to try and get a joint agreement in place as early as possible so that everyone knows what to expect around Christmas. 

Try and look at how it will work from the children’s point of view, and make sure you take into account any possible disruptions to travel plans at that time of year. With this in place, the children can start getting excited about having a double lot of celebrations.

If possible, it always helps to present a united front. Children can be asked for their views, but they can easily feel caught in the middle if they are asked to make choices between their parents. Making a decision for them which is fair will help the arrangements run smoothly.

It won’t be the same

It can be very hard to let go of old traditions, but it is important to accept that things might be different if the children are now moving between two houses, or spending time with new people over the holidays. Don’t worry about being flexible and doing things a new way. Two Christmases probably means two lots of presents and that, if nothing else, is something for the children to get excited about.

Remember that it’s an important time of year for everyone. This means that there are lots of competing demands, but also that everyone just wants to enjoy themselves. You can’t please everyone, so just keep focused on the children having a good time and you can’t go too far wrong.

I don’t want to be on my own

Bear in mind that if the children are going to be with their other parent for some or all of the time over Christmas, it can be vey hard being on your own.

If the children are worried about leaving one parent it can make the event stressful for them, so make plans for how to deal with this in advance. It might mean being with friends or family you wouldn’t usually see, or make the most of not having to plan around anyone else, and take some time to go away or do something you wouldn’t usually do.