How separated parents can make fair child arrangements over Christmas

As a parent, it is always a challenging time to juggle work commitments and children. That is never truer than in the holiday periods and especially December. Not only is it often a very busy time but co-parenting families have the additional worry of making arrangements for the children over the festive period, but naturally everyone involved should work towards making Christmas enjoyable for the children.

The Family Law solicitors at Goughs Solicitors has worked with thousands of clients over the years offering advice and support to achieve just that. We have set out some of our top tips for parents to assist in limiting disputes at this time.

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6 tips for fair child arrangement over Christmas

1. Communicate is key

The earlier these discussions are raised, the better. Compromises will need to be made and it may be that an alternate Christmas Eve / Christmas / New Year pattern works best to reduce conflict and ensure there is clarity on arrangements early on. If parents live closer geographically, then an alternate Christmas / Boxing Day pattern may be preferred. Some families manage to accommodate half day spent with one parent before travelling to the other. There is no perfect solution; every family dynamic is different, and plans must work for the children and parents. If your children are older, you may both value their input, whilst making sure they do not feel that they must choose either parent.

2. Focus on the Children

It is important to consider the views of the children if they are old enough, but do not ask them to choose. There is no set formula for working out the contact arrangements, but it is sensible to consider the key Christmas days such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day separately to the wider holiday arrangements.

There will be several factors to consider such as geography and parents’ working patterns. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and the arrangements should work for the children and both parents.

Whether that be the children spend the key Christmas days with one parent and New Year with the other on alternating years, or whether that be a handover at lunchtime on Christmas Day or indeed Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other, this should be agreed in advance and the children should be the main focus. 

3. Listen and be willing to compromise

Enter into discussions with the other parent with an open mind and be fair to them. This can be especially difficult for couples that have recently separated but consider if your proposals are not only practically achievable for the other parent but importantly fair to them. If you would not be happy with the arrangements if they were reversed the following year, then perhaps you need to reconsider.

We understand that communication with an ex-partner may sometimes be difficult and therefore one may wish to consider the assistance of a family solicitor.

4. Consider setting out your agreement in writing and stick to it

As we know, Christmas comes around all too fast, so take steps now to obtain legal advice on how best to proceed with the arrangements. You can discuss your child contact issues with a solicitor in confidence by contacting your local office. Learn more about services from child custody lawyers.

When you have reached an agreement it is important to stick to it, including times and places for any handovers. It may assist to write this down so each parent has a copy. If one parent tries to change the arrangements late in the day this not only causes uncertainty and stress for the children but can lead to tension and arguments between the parents which inevitably needs to be avoided.

5. Keep the children informed

If the children are old enough, once the arrangements are agreed it would be sensible to discuss them with the children. If organising the arrangements has been difficult for the parents, then no doubt the children have been wondering where they will be and when over the Christmas period, so let them know in a child-focused and positive manner which will leave them excited by the arrangements. 

Sharing plans with the children means they know where they will be throughout the holiday period and can look forward to spending time with both their parents without anxiety. Knowing there is a plan in place will also help them to feel safe and secure.

For the majority of children, in the absence of any welfare concerns, they will be extremely happy if they can see both parents over the festive period and enjoy quality time with each of them. It is up to the parents to make that happen. 

6. Think about the gifts you give

Everybody loves to receive a thoughtful gift, even more so for excitable children at Christmas. If your child has expressed a wish to receive a more expensive gift that one parent simply cannot afford, consider whether that can be purchased jointly. Liaising with the other parent in some form to avoid duplicate presents can also be helpful and demonstrate a mutual respect for the other. 

Anything else to consider?

If one of you is unable to physically see your child  over the festive period, consider ways in which your are able to communicate with their them. FaceTime or telephone calls with the other parent on those special days may also be enjoyed and appreciated by that parent.

Making these arrangements is not always easy and there will be occasions when you are simply unable to agree. On those occasions, consider the following:

  • Seeking assistance from mutual friend/family member to assist or meet in a neutral place to discuss matters
  • Consider meditation where ongoing issues or areas of dispute arise in connection with the children or holiday arrangements
  • Consider putting in place a Parenting Plan setting out your agreements and wishes in respect of the child/children. It will assist you in anticipating matters concerning the children that will need to be considered. It will invariably assist you both to look ahead for the benefit of the child/children but also yourselves in terms of how you approach certain matters.

How can Goughs help?

At Goughs, we understand that a whole range of emotional and practical issues, for both parents and children, come into play when family dynamics change. Fortunately, we deal with these issues every day by supporting and advising our clients, and can help you find the best way to make sense of your situation.

If you are looking to agree contact arrangements with your former partner and have been unable to do so or want advice on how best to approach matters going forward, please get in touch. We offer an initial free consultation to discuss your concerns and would be pleased to help. At Goughs, we have an extremely experienced team of lawyers who can provide guidance and advice on these issues with a view to reaching an amicable agreement.

Author Bio

Natasha Miller

I joined Goughs in September 2019 as a Trainee Solicitor. After graduating from the University of Bath with a Psychology degree I spent ten years working in management. I attended BPP University in Bristol in 2017, receiving a distinction in both the Graduate Diploma in Law and Masters of Laws before joining the firm. I then qualified as a Solicitor in September 2021.

My background, both educationally and professionally, meant that before commencing my training contract I knew that I wanted to work in an area of law with a high level of client contact. I enjoy the human element to each case and working with clients to achieve the best possible outcome for them in what is inevitably a very difficult time in their life.

Author Bio

Rhianna Cole

I have over 14 years’ experience as a Family Law specialist. I greatly enjoy the different aspects and challenges of this area of law. I take the time to get to know my clients in order to understand their objectives and desired outcomes. Where appropriate and possible I promote a conciliatory approach to issues, focusing on the needs of the client and always putting the wellbeing of any children involved first. My advice is clear, pragmatic, honest and outcome-focused in order to find the right solution for each individual. Experience has taught me the importance of building trusting relationships with my clients so I can effectively guide them through what are bound to be emotional and challenging times in their lives with compassion.

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