For many, Christmas is an exciting and happy time. However, for others and some children, it is a period of anxiety and uncertainty, particularly when parents are separated from each other.
It is important to remember that in most cases, children will want to spend Christmas (and other special occasions) with both of their parents and extended families. Here are some tips on how to deal with Christmas contact arrangements…
Being the ‘main carer’ of children (however that may be defined) shouldn’t mean that children don’t get to spend adequate amounts of time with their other parent. In English law, parents with Parental Responsibility have the same rights and responsibilities, even when the children spend unequal time with them. Sharing time with children at Christmas should be something that is discussed and compromised with the children’s perspective firmly at the fore front of a parent’s mind, although it can be hard to put self-interest to one side.
In general terms, it is children that have the right to good quality time with both parents and extended family. Ideally, parents need to consider the arrangements from the child’s perspective and think what it will be like for them, before committing to any details. Children will want to enjoy all the usual things about Christmas, and they can get the opportunity to do that twice, if parents can make that work to the best of their ability, rather than view it as a competition between them.
Should the court have to decide Christmas arrangements, orders are likely to be made that mean children share their time broadly equally between their parents on the festive days of the season. If the decision is taken by a Court that can lead to arrangements that neither parent likes or that don’t really meet the child’s full needs.
It’s important to remember that your children won’t be children forever and they will have their own memories and own opinions on how issues such as this were dealt with. It might help to keep that in mind when making your decisions.
The law encourages parents to come to arrangements between them and the Court will only intervene if it is absolutely necessary. There is also a degree of expectation that parents are able and willing to communicate in the best interests of their children. Both parents attempting to reasonably discuss Christmas contact is far better for all involved as often, the Court will order arrangements that neither parent would have wanted.
Some parents decide to alternate contact on Christmas day each year, with one parent celebrating on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day instead, swapping the following year. Children in general aren’t overly concerned with dates and times and are usually content that they have been able to celebrate with both parents and families, especially if this means double celebrations and presents!
Other families choose to split Christmas day in half so that the children get equal time with both on the day. There are even some parents who spend Christmas with their children at the same time. Of course, this isn’t appropriate for everyone but wonderful where it works.
So long as both parents, and most importantly, the children, are content with the arrangements, there is no right or wrong solution and every family will have different ways of dealing with Christmas and other special occasions. The most important aspect is to try to compromise and remain on good terms as that will benefit the children.
It is important to plan as far ahead as possible as planning in advance allows both families to prepare for festive arrangements and be able to look forward to this with the children. This may also reduce the anxiety for both parents as there is time to get used to the idea of Christmas being shared.
It also means that if any unexpected issues arise, there is ample time to resolve these and re-arrange any plans if necessary.
It is also unfair to leave the children worrying if they will see their other parent or grandparents at Christmas. Contact time is not something that is ‘allowed’ by one parent, it is something that every child should have, and it is their parents’ duty to ensure it happens.
There are often situations where parents are unable to agree to contact arrangements, sometimes not through lack of trying. Having these conversations early allows for the parents to seek assistance where an agreement cannot be reached. Mediation is a helpful process to assist in these discussions, without the Court having to make decisions for the parents. Where it’s appropriate, children can be involved in mediation which might help finalise any arrangements made. It is important though to not make it their decision or suggest that they choose.
Last but by no means least, have fun! Plan things that make you happy in the time that your children are with their other parent. Having another present parent can be an ally you will find in no other, there is no shame in making the most of this and embracing it!
Ultimately, as long as your children are safe and happy, what more could you ask for this Christmas?
At Band Hatton Button, our lawyers are all members of Resolution – First for Family Law and will help you resolve matters in a conciliatory way. We also have an Accredited Family Mediator who can assist with all types of Family Mediation.
For more information visit the family pages of our website www.bandhattonbutton.com or call the Family team for initial help with no obligation on 024 7630 9307.
Ruth Hayfield – Trainee Solicitor – Family Department