Contact arrangements over Christmas can be a source of tension, particularly for the non-resident parent, who will want to spend some meaningful time with their child during the festive season.
Christmas is known for being a stressful time for families, with different family members wanting to gather together on specific dates. Parents of younger children especially may feel that they are missing out if they do not have the chance to see them on Christmas morning.
Planning early what will happen over the festive season will avoid the stress of last-minute disagreements. Try and think pragmatically about what arrangements your children might like and what would be fair to both you and their other parent.
You may have to compromise and accept that you will not be with your children during a special day. By making the arrangements early, you will have the chance to adjust to this and think of how you will spend the time you have together to make it memorable.
By starting the planning process well in advance, you will also have the chance to consider the other parent in order to avoid last minute negotiations. Dependent on your children’s ages, you can take your children’s own wishes into account, but make sure you do not ask them to choose between parents. They need to be aware that the decision that is made is yours and that it may not be exactly what they had in mind. Ideally, the more as parents you can agree and make as a joint decision, the better.
Discuss the situation as calmly as you can with your children’s other parent and try to see their point of view. You should also look at the practicalities of the arrangements, for example, whether lengthy travel can be avoided. You can discuss other issues such as gifts, so that you both agree on what you will be giving.
Putting the final agreement in writing, for example, in an email, can help avoid misunderstandings. Once you have settled on a timetable, both parents should avoid changing this at the last minute.
Once you have an idea of what you will be doing, you can talk to your children about it. Make sure you do not hint at any disagreement or let them see that the situation has been stressful for you. Focus on letting them know that you are looking forward to spending time with them, whenever this will be. If you won’t be with them on Christmas Day itself, you can make arrangements to exchange gifts at another time and maybe make plans for activities you will be able to do together. Don’t underestimate the value of simply being together. Every minute does not have to be spent going to an attraction or having fun. Time spent relaxing at home, playing games together or other favourite activities can be really enjoyable and memorable for children.
What are the options?
Families often decide to alternate Christmas Days with their children each year. Where you live nearby, you could arrange for your children to see both of you on Christmas Day, for example, with your children changing over after lunch, to spend the rest of the day with the other parent. Over time as your children grow, new arrangements may be appropriate. By being open-minded and flexible, you stand the best chance of dealing with the festive period with minimal stress.
If you do need further advice regarding your options, please do obtain legal advice at the earliest opportunity, especially if you are concerned that there may be a dispute – the sooner you raise such issues, the more chance you give yourself to resolve. You may also want to consider mediation as well.
This information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking full legal advice on specific facts and circumstances.