As the festive season is approaching, one question we often get asked about is child contact arrangements over the Christmas holiday period, and how this should be agreed. It is often difficult for separated parents to decide between themselves how to deal with childcare arrangements at Christmas, and sadly, very often it can be a huge sticking point in a dispute about child arrangements.
As a starting point, the best thing parents can do is try not to leave it until the last minute as this often causes a lot of conflict. Try to discuss this sooner rather than later, so everyone knows what they are doing and can plan their special events well in advance. It is also important for children to have certainty as to what the arrangements are.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to dealing child arrangements at Christmas as it depends on each family’s individual circumstances, but there are a few common ways in which separated couples could manage child access if they are struggling to come to an agreement. Above all else, a child-focused approach should always be taken, and it is something that we will always strive to achieve, whether through mediation or as a last resort, through the Courts.
What are typical arrangements for child contact over the Christmas period?
Ultimately, it is the child’s right to have a relationship with both parents and to see both parents over any holiday period provided there are no safeguarding issues or any similar concerns.
As for a ‘typical’ arrangement for child access over the Christmas period, this is usually focused on the three key days being Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Many parents often request to have their children over these days, particularly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as they want to wake up to them on Christmas morning.
Common scenarios agreed by separated parents often include:
- Spending Christmas Day with one parent, then Boxing Day with the other
- Splitting the 10 days of 23 December to 1 January equally, so the children spend 5 days with each parent
- One parent having the children on all special days over Christmas, with this arrangement to alternate each year
- Splitting Christmas Day and alternating Christmas Eve and Boxing Day each year
What if I already have an existing child arrangements order in place?
If you already have an existing child arrangements order in place, it is very likely that the Christmas child arrangements will have been covered, and often it includes an alternating arrangement between the parents each year. It is important to check the terms of the child arrangements order to be sure that the Christmas arrangements have already been covered.
If you find that there are in fact no Christmas child arrangements covered in the existing child arrangements order, it is sensible in the first instance to try and agree the Christmas arrangements with the other parent as early as possible. If the issue remains in dispute and cannot be sorted by way of mediation or solicitor correspondence, it may be that you need to consider applying to the Court.
Can I go on holiday over the Christmas period?
If you would like to take the children abroad, how you approach this is entirely dependent on where you are going. If you are going on holiday within England and Wales, it is courteous to speak to the other parent to let them know of your plans in advance and agree the arrangements, but it is unrestricted. If you are planning to take the children abroad, you must obtain permission from any person with parental responsibility.
Is it too late to make Christmas child access arrangements for this year (Christmas 2023)?
If you are currently unable to agree child arrangements in respect of this coming Christmas, an interim arrangement could be reached through mediation. Alternatively, arrangements could be reached through solicitor correspondence if mediation is unsuccessful. An interim arrangement would be most sensible given the time restraints, and a more permanent arrangement can be considered in the New Year which may include applying to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
If you are having difficulties in agreeing contact arrangements over the upcoming festive period, please contact our Family Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be very happy to assist.