Managing the Christmas period and childcare arrangements

17 December 2019
Edward Cooke Family Law Christmas childcare

As we enter the festive season, Solicitor and Mediator Michelle Lewis shares her advice on how separated parents and families can best manage the Christmas period and childcare arrangements.

Christmas is the season of joy and families united - Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! Sadly, however, this is not always the case for separated parents, who usually feel a significant amount of trepidation as they endeavour to agree Christmas arrangements.

It is difficult to imagine how upsetting this must be for anyone who, in a perfect world, would spend every Christmas Day with their children. Unsurprisingly, communication can break down due to the grief and sadness of ‘losing your loved ones’ on one of the most cherished days of the year. Sometimes, parents’ conflicted wishes can cause a considerable amount of tension between two homes, at what is already a stressful time in ensuring all goes smoothly when Christmas finally arrives.

If separated couples are unable to agree arrangements between themselves, it is important they seek help and guidance from a family specialist in advance of Christmas. Whatever the circumstances, children need reassurance that this can still be a happy time. It is therefore important that separated parents put their differences to one side for the sake of their children’s happiness.

What options are available to resolve these issues?

In the first instance, separated parents may wish to consider mediation - it is always better to agree arrangements on a voluntary basis, as opposed to the court making these decisions for them. Every family is different and, where Christmas arrangements are concerned, one size does not fit all.

Mediation allows couples to explore different options, which they believe to be in the best interests of their child and them as a family. A mediator aids and promotes constructive discussions between separated parents, which enable them to hear one another’s views - which, more often than not, they have refused to hear in the confines of their home or via private discussions. It is not unusual for separated couples to argue about these arrangements, as understandably heartache or frustration can play their part. Within mediation, most couples are able to compose themselves and curtail their emotions as, ultimately, they have agreed to participate in the process in order to reach a fair and amicable solution for all concerned.

Alternatively, parents may wish to instruct a Resolution-trained family solicitor or collaborative lawyer to liaise directly with their ex-partner or their solicitor regarding Christmas arrangements, addressing all discussions/correspondence in a child-focused and non-confrontational manner. For further information about the collaborative process, please see our previous blog, ‘What is Collaborative Law?’.

If these options are unsuccessful, separated parents can always apply to the court. Within the court process, a Judge still offers guidance and support, encouraging parents to make their own decisions. Eventually, if all else fails, a Judge can impose an order upon parents, based on what they consider to be in the best interests of their child.

How should separated parents share Christmas?

The court tends to impose an alternate yearly arrangement in order to achieve a degree of fairness, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. Christmas arrangements should generally be based on parents’ wishes, having regard to their practical circumstances and family traditions, but arrangements differ depending on the individual family:

  • It may be in the children’s best interests to wake up at what was the family home on the first Christmas.
  • One parent may spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with their children and the other parent may spend Boxing Day and 27th December with them.
  • Christmas Day may be divided, so that one parent sees their children on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning and the other parent sees them on Christmas Day afternoon and Boxing Day.
  • The remaining holiday period may be shared between parents, taking into consideration both parents’ work commitments. Some parents will revert back to their normal routine.
  • Consideration should also be given to the travel distance between parents. If parents live far away from one another, it is more likely the children will spend one week each with their parents.

When assessing what is in the child’s best interests, the court must also consider the parents’ relationship and their ability to co-parent. Practical consideration needs to be given to any welfare concerns and whether, as a result, restrictions/limitations should be imposed.

For more information or help, please contact Michelle on 01243 769001 or alternatively contact us here.