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Christmas after separation: avoiding a Nightmare Before Christmas

View profile for Rebecca Allen
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While it is absolutely too early to put up your Christmas decorations it’s not too early to think about agreeing the arrangements for your children over the festive season. Christmas can be a stressful period for parents at the best of times and it can be very difficult to find that December is suddenly around the corner and neither of you has agreed how your children will spend the holidays with each parent. Planning ahead can help your Christmas run more smoothly and allows the whole family to look forward to the big day without worrying about family disputes spoiling any plans.

Remember that child arrangements are always child-specific and what works for one family might not work for yours. When you start thinking about the arrangements for your children over the holidays, you should try to consider the following:

Your children are your priority

Christmas is a special time for children but can be distressing for them if they are forced into the middle of parental conflict. If you keep in mind that your priority for Christmas is your children’s enjoyment, it will add focus to any discussions between co-parents. While you should think about what your children want, you should also be careful talking about this subject with them. You should not put your children in the impossible position of feeling like they have to choose which parent they would rather spend Christmas with.   

Are there any existing orders?

First things first, if you have a court order which determined the arrangements for your children, you should double check whether this includes anything regarding the Christmas holidays. If your order specifies the arrangements, please stick with them!

Alternating annually

Some children alternate spending 24th – 26th each year with their parents. Perhaps your children spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with you and Boxing Day with their other parent, swapping next year. You could also consider splitting the whole holiday period in half with one parent spending Christmas with the children and the other spending New Years. Alternating years can be a good idea for families who are looking for a long-term solution that offers a substantial amount of time with each parent. You could even consider organising a ‘second Christmas’ on the years when you are not with your children on Christmas Day.

Dividing up the days

You could also consider dividing 24 – 26 December down the middle. Your children could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent and Christmas dinner and Boxing Day with the other parent. This might be an appropriate arrangement for co-parents thinking about the most immediate Christmas with a much more detailed agreement beginning the following year. It might also suit those parents who live near to each other and whose children can make a quick journey between homes.

What makes sense for your family?

There is no right or wrong way for children to divide their time over the Christmas period. You should try to think about what would work best for your family. You may have a Christmas tradition that you would like to continue, like an annual family gathering on Boxing Day or the 27 December (‘The Third Day’) that means you are happy for your children to spend the 25th with their other parent. You may also want to consider the practical arrangements of your proposals. It might not be difficult for your children to travel during the middle of the day if it would require a long journey by car bearing in mind public transport generally does not run on the 25th. You may also be working over the Christmas period and need to accommodate your working hours.

Make a list, check it twice.

Whatever arrangements you would like for your children over Christmas, you should be upfront and clear with what your priorities are early on in the discussions with your co-parent so they know where you are coming from and what is driving their proposals. Remember to be flexible and accommodating when your co-parent suggests a tradition that they also want to honour post-separation.

Opening presents and closing thoughts

One more thing you may want to consider is discussing what presents you want to gift your children. Presents can be a source of conflict for co-parents, raising issues such as what age your children should receive their first mobile phone. You also may be able to avoid a situation where your children receive duplicate gifts.

Whatever arrangements you agree on for your children, you should put this in writing. This can be as simple as an email or text which confirms the agreements that you have made. You can then refer back to this if there are any misunderstandings or disputes in the lead up to Christmas. Do so diplomatically, December can throw up all manner of unforeseen events and schedule changes that you should both try and accommodate.

The earlier you start thinking about the arrangements for the children, the sooner you can relax and the whole family can focus on enjoying Christmas with the certainty that will bring. The only question left to answer will be whether it is still too soon to put up the decorations…