Carving up Christmas

6th November 2023

Associate Ayesha Griffin gives some tips on how to co-parent this festive season.

If you have separated this year, you may be navigating your way through co-parenting apart for the first time this upcoming holiday season. You might have it all figured out with a carefully drawn-up parenting plan for every occasion, or you might just be taking each occasion, or even week, as it comes.

For children who celebrate Christmas, it can be the most exciting and magical time of the year. As parents, it is a joy to experience this time of wonder through our children’s eyes. You are likely to want to throw the usual rules for how contact is managed week by week (or even during regular school holidays) out of the window during this period.

It is likely that you had holiday traditions as a family unit, and now is a time when new traditions are on the horizon. Carving up time during this period can be a difficult conversation for co-parents to have. A calm discussion is always a great starting point where possible and can centre on what is most important to you, your co-parent, and your children.

Common options include:

  1. Alternating the Christmas/New Year period or certain special days within that period year by year.
  2. Splitting special days/nights between parents – e.g., opening presents with one parent and having dinner with the other. This can also be alternated each year.

Whilst the need to adjust to some change is inevitable, it is important to ensure that the children are not unduly impacted by the change to the family dynamic. As parents, you can assist with this by:

  • Ensuring that you do not express negativity or upset regarding the arrangements in the presence of the children. Children can be impacted by our emotions, and speaking positively and excitedly about the upcoming arrangements is likely to be contagious!
  • Planning lots of activities with the children in the lead-up to Christmas which help you all get excited, regardless of where the big day is being spent. Send letters to Santa, visit a Grotto, a light trail, pick out a special outfit, etc. The options are endless!
  • Chatting openly and positively with your children about the experiences they have with their other parent. Get them excited to have double the fun.
  • Thinking about arrangements for telephone/video calls during the period so that both you and your children can feel involved in each other’s days.

Sometimes, it can be more difficult than you might like to discuss and agree arrangements and it might be necessary to involve a third party to help you and your co-parent with this. The first port of call for disagreements in matters relating to children should always be mediation (where it is safe to engage). As solicitors, we can help with negotiating, drafting and fine-tuning parenting plans (to cover all occasions), assist in disputes where mediation has been unsuccessful or was not appropriate, and as a last resort we can guide you through the court process for determining child arrangements when all other routes have broken down.

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