Given the importance placed on providing children with a happy and enjoyable Christmas, agreeing child arrangements can be difficult for separated parents.

With the countdown to Christmas underway, many of us are planning our Christmas meals and making our lists (and possibly even checking them twice!), but for those co-parenting while separated the task can sometimes be more fraught and require even greater planning.

Trying to agree with whom and when the children should spend the holiday period is not always straightforward when families separate. There are some things that you should do to make it a little easier.

1. Plan ahead

The best advice is to plan ahead and try to reach an agreement. There is no rulebook, and the Court will always encourage parents to agree where possible as it would with any arrangements for the children. The Court recognises that the children cannot be in two places at once, and for some families Christmas Day itself is shared, for others, Christmases are alternated each year. There is not one size that fits all. If arrangements cannot be agreed, it is sensible to consider an application to the court at an early stage. Seeking legal advice early often helps in looking at options and possible solutions – our role as legal advisers is to try to find those solutions that work for you and your family.

2. Be realistic and try to compromise

It is always going to be best to work together and try to put aside your own emotions to do what is best for your children. This can be even harder at Christmas as it is seen as a time for getting together with friends and loved ones.

If you definitely can’t come to a mutual decision you will need to trial mediation (unless there are exceptional circumstances where you may be exempted from doing so) before an application can be submitted. It can take six weeks for the Court to list an application for a first hearing (FHDRA) so you need to act quickly and like with mediation, only in exceptional circumstances will an urgent hearing be listed.

If an agreement is still not possible at the first hearing then a further court hearing will usually be required for the court to make a decision and so if an application is made too close to the Christmas holiday period, the Court may not have time to hear it. The Court will hear each party’s views and proposals, but it is important to be aware that the paramount consideration will be the children’s welfare – in other words what is best for them, not for their parents.

3. Traditions

The festive period can often be a time of reflection and missing the way things used to be. Different family groups, step-parents, grandparents, extended family members, and step-siblings all can play a part in festivities and will have input. Some will miss old family traditions but it can also be a time to make new traditions. Get the children involved and try to filter energy on embracing changes. 

4. Try to be amicable

The pressure to enjoy Christmas can be full-on. Make sure you do what is best for your family. If you do find it difficult to spend time with your ex-partner and know it will cause tension, then find a different solution. Your children will manage more easily with seeing you separately than seeing you angry or upset with each other.