Christmas planning for separated families

It may be the beginning of autumn but we are now just double figures away from the festive season.  For many planning the family gathering is an exciting task but Christmas planning for separated families can be a bigger headache than any office party hangover.

There is no rulebook as to where the children should be at Christmas, whether with mum or with dad.  The clear message is to try to agree matters in advance and plan as far as possible beforehand how the arrangements will work for your family.  This might mean spending part of the holiday period with one side of the family and then the remainder with the other side, or it might work best for you to alternate year on year.

If an agreement is looking unlikely or cannot be reached it is often advisable to make an application to the court.  This should happen no later than September (and sometimes earlier given pressures on court listing).  The court will usually not list an application less than six weeks from the date it is issued, and depending on whether by that stage the matter can be agreed, sometimes the court will wish to set a separate date for the parties to argue which contact regime should take place.  By this time, Christmas will be just around the corner.

The court will always consider the children’s needs and welfare as paramount, rather than mum’s wish to spend Christmas at nanny’s, or dad’s preference to go skiing.  The court will encourage parties to agree wherever possible, and unless exceptional or circumstances where it is not appropriate, expect parties to mediate and sometimes a compromise is better than a day at court when neither party might be happy with the outcome.

The clear message to take away is that planning in advance is key.  When Christmas has come and passed attention will often turn to the sales but it might just be worth sparing a thought for how arrangements will work the following year, to remove the stress of making last minute arrangements for the following Christmas.

Ed Bidder works in our  family law team.  The team has a wealth of experience and offers advice on all children issues, including offering legal aid.  Please call 01392 210700 or email for further information.