Separated Parents At Christmas
Arrangements for children at Christmas with separated parents.
For what is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”, Christmas can often feel far from that if you are separated or divorced. The reality is that for some people in such a situation, it can actually be one of the most stressful and miserable times of the year. This is particularly so when it comes to planning arrangements for children at Christmas time.
Let’s not forget that Christmas is after all a time for children. Whether it is the excitement and anticipation of Father Christmas’ visit as the children go to bed on Christmas Eve or seeing their faces as the children open their presents on Christmas morning, the presence of children is what often “makes” Christmas for parents.
It can however also be why Christmas can be so difficult for parents who no longer live together and who essentially vie for time with their children at Christmas.
So, how can such a situation be made less stressful?
Plan ahead – Organisation is the key!
Just as we start to be informed about the January sales long before we’ve even celebrated Christmas, consideration is best being given to the arrangements for Christmas as early as can be. Don’t leave it to the last minute when if agreement cannot be reached, it is too late to do anything about it.
Nobody knows their children better than the parents. That’s what most parents believe and with this in mind, why would you allow a complete stranger to decide what is right and should happen to your children?
If you are able to communicate honestly and freely with your ex, try and sit down with him/her and agree what will work for you all. Try to be open-minded and listen to each other’s point of view.
Find out and understand how both of you see Christmas being split with the children.
Is it, for instance, that the children spend time with one parent from Christmas Eve until part way through Christmas Day when they then move to the other parent’s home for the rest of Christmas Day and the duration of Boxing Day? You could reverse this arrangement the following year.
Is it that one of you spends time with the children on Christmas Day and the other spends Boxing Day with the children? If so, will this alternate over coming years?
Do you link Christmas to the New Year period with one parent spending Christmas with the children and the other the New Year period? Again, you could alternate this in future years.
Whatever you decide, what you need to remember is that there is no set regime or rule which has to apply at Christmas. What works for one family will not be right for the next.
Responsibilities over rights
Above all, what you need to remember is that as a parent you don’t have “rights” in relation to your children but you do have “responsibilities”. Such responsibilities include doing what is right for your children even if this is not what you want or feel is right for yourself.
Put yourself in the shoes of your children – what would they want? Surely this is to spend time with both of their parents? If so, does this have to be on Christmas Day itself?
All too often people fixate on the calendar and how Christmas has to be celebrated on 25th December. Could one parent not celebrate Christmas with the children on 25th December and the other enjoy Christmas with the children on 26th December? From the point of view of the children, spending Christmas only on 25th December is of less importance than it is for the adults. What child wouldn’t want two Christmases each year after all?
Consider the use of a Parenting Plan
If you are successful in agreeing the arrangements for Christmas with your ex, consider documenting the same to avoid any misunderstandings or confusion further down the line.
A “Parenting Plan” is a written plan worked out between parents who have separated or divorced. It is designed to cover the practical issues of parenting. This can include what will happen at Christmas.
There are many benefits to a Parenting Plan not least in that it helps everyone involved know what is expected of them and acts as a valuable resource which can be referred back to as time marches on.
Although you may be able to communicate well with your ex, sometimes this still won’t always lead to agreement. So, what do you do then?
You could consider putting in writing your thoughts about what should happen at Christmas and why you feel this is so important. You could even make such an approach on a more formal footing and it be sent on your behalf from a solicitor. It may well be that once your ex has had time to reflect on your position that this may provoke a change of heart and lead to common ground being reached.
Alternatively, consider mediation. Mediation offers a structured, interactive forum where a neutral third party is brought into and involved in your discussions. That person is there to assist and hopefully enable you to reach agreement.
Keep your children informed
Whatever you decide, make sure that once agreement has been reached your children are made aware of what is planned.
Children become upset and unsettled when they don’t know what is happening. Let them know where they will be and when.
But what if agreement can’t be reached? Involving the court
Ultimately, if you are unable to reach agreement then an application may need to be made to the court for assistance.
Involving a court should always be a measure of last resort. This is not least because of the time and cost involved but more so because it is very hard to come back from the forum of a court-based dispute in terms of the future relationship and communication with your ex going forwards.