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It is that time of year again when Christmas planning is underway, but for separated parents what should be a joyous and child-focused time often becomes stressful when they cannot agree on shared contact arrangements for their children.

 

Whether you have recently divorced or have been separated for many years; often emotions run high at this time of year and disputes about Christmas plans with children can cause friction with what might usually be a reasonably civil relationship.

 

What happens when you cannot agree?

 

If you are unable to agree on contact arrangements between yourselves then a Fixed Fee meeting with a Family Lawyer for some general advice may arm you with some facts and suggestions on how to find a way forward.

 

Failing that you may need to see a Family Mediator, an impartial expert, who can help you reach agreement around a table or via ‘shuttle mediation’ in separate rooms where appropriate.

 

If all else fails then you can apply to the Court for an order to be made. However, the Court will not view resolving Christmas arrangements as an urgent issue, so it is important to plan ahead and not leave things until the last minute.

 

Some Helpful General Advice:

 

  • There is no set formula to finding the perfect solution and all families have their own circumstances and traditions. Any decision of the Court will ultimately centre on what the judge deems to be in the children’s best interests.

 

  • The Court will expect you to have tried to resolve disagreements yourselves or via mediation before bringing matters to the Court, so ensure you have tried these options first as Court applications should be a remedy of last resort.

 

  • Assuming there are no welfare concerns, the Court will normally start from a position that it is in the children’s best interests that they see both of their parents over the festive period. The Court will generally strive to order arrangements that are fair to both parents so it is highly unlikely the children will remain with one parent for the whole Christmas period unless there are any extenuating reasons.

 

Continue scrolling for further advice points…

  • On a practical note if you have very young children thought may need to be given to whether they should wake up in the family home or where they call ‘home’ the majority of the time as this is where children believe Father Christmas will visit.

 

  • When children are older a Court will often suggest that arrangements are alternated each year. This could be splitting Christmas Day in half and alternating each year who has the children for Christmas lunch. Or it could be an arrangement where full days are alternated, for example, Christmas Day with mum and Boxing Day with dad, and the following year the arrangements are swapped for them to spend Christmas Day with dad and Boxing Day with mum.

 

  • If lengthy periods of travel may be required to facilitate handovers, some thought will need to be given to the risk of inclement weather, additional heavy traffic on the roads and the unavailability of public transport over the Christmas holiday when there is often a reduced timetable. It may be prudent to try and cut down on a lot of travelling if you and your former partner live a significant distance apart – a week with each parent during the Christmas holidays may be a better option to avoid lots of long journeys.

 

  • The Court will take into account specific family circumstances, such as historical traditions and religious beliefs; although ultimately the guiding principle is that the children’s interests come first.

 

  • If you have more complex circumstances, perhaps where children have disabilities or special needs then it would be taken into consideration where is suitable/comfortable for them to spend special occasions.

 

  • The Court is highly unlikely to impose that separated parents spend time together over Christmas however that doesn’t mean that you cannot opt to do this if both feel up to it.

 

Children Come First

 

It is important to make sure that your children’s happiness and welfare is at the forefront of any decisions made around contact. Arguments and stress can have a detrimental impact on young people who are able to pick up on bad feelings even if you try your best to not discuss matters in front of them.

 

Plan Ahead

 

Christmas arrangements and contact for other special occasions is ideally something that is agreed upon early after separation or divorce. This makes planning much easier and everyone involved knows where they stand. Christmas is an extremely busy time so it is beneficial to all, including extended family members to have clear arrangements in place earlier on in the year.

 

Finding a way forward

 

We understand that Christmas is a special time of year and for most people spending quality time with their children as a family is top of their Christmas list.

 

If you are struggling to make arrangements that both of you can agree on then please speak to one of our Family Law Team today to determine your next steps.

 

If you need assistance please call Julia, Rob, Laura or Brigitta on 01256 844888 who will be happy to help you. If you are enquiring out of working hours, you are welcome to email our team at enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant who is available all day, including evenings and weekends.

 

Other articles you may be interested in:

10 Golden Rules for Protecting your Children During your Separation

Run Down of the Latest Divorce Statistics

Looking for the Best Divorce Lawyer?

 

 

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.