Many children look forward to the summer and winter holidays. No school. No homework. No early mornings. But for separated parents, these times of year can sometimes be very stressful, especially when it’s time to make child arrangements. The Christmas period in particular can be tricky to navigate, with both parents and extended families naturally wanting to be the ones who get to open presents on Christmas morning with the children.
Even those who co-parent well and have mutually agreeable child arrangements in place the rest of the year can find that things become more difficult around the festive period. Some parents may have more time off work, and want to spend this time with their children. Others may have increased work responsibilities which mean a child’s time cannot be split equally between parents – this can be problematic when it comes to agreeing who should have the kids for important occasions such as Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and even around New Year’s Eve.
So how can you make child arrangements that everyone will agree to and most important, won’t leave anyone feeling upset or angry in the run up to Christmas?
Step 1: Try to make Christmas plans together
It is in the best interests of children if parents work together to make arrangements that allow them to spend time with both parents across the festive period. Coming to an agreement together removes the need for legal intervention, which can be very upsetting for children and means that both parents can enjoy the run-up and celebrations without feelings of hostility, anger or resentment.
Try to keep negotiations calm and logical. Children can pick up on feelings of anger or hostility, and may feel as though they are to blame for this, which could dampen their excitement at this magical time of the year.
Agreeing a schedule such as alternating Christmas Eves with each parent each year can work for some families, while others find that spending half a day at each home is an acceptable compromise. For others, the prospect of two Christmases is more workable, with Christmas Day spent with one parent and then a second celebration taking place on Boxing Day with the alternate parent.
Step 2: Request mediation
Of course, not all separated parents will be able to agree on what Christmas should look like, especially if the separation is more recent. When this happens, mediation can help you to make suitable arrangements without having to go to court. It provides a safe space in which parents can discuss needs and preferences, and can be quicker, cheaper, and less stressful than court.
To see if your situation is suitable for mediation, you will need to schedule a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting, or MIAM. During this meeting, you will learn more about how mediation works, and a decision will be made about whether it would be beneficial to move forward with mediation, or if other options may deliver better results.
Step 3: Apply for a court order
Should mediation not help you to come to an agreement as to how you will each spend time with the children over the festive period, or if mediation is determined to not be the best course of action, you can apply for a court order. This should always be used as a last resort. In fact, under changes that were introduced in 2014, most separated parents must attend a MIAM before they are able to apply for a court order (unless one of the exemptions apply, such as if one parent is a victim of alleged domestic abuse from the other parent).
Should parents be unable to agree to child arrangements, and once safeguarding checks have been completed, with any additional evidence deemed necessary to assist a Judge in reaching a decision (in the absence of an agreed way forward); a Judge will use a welfare checklist to decide how the child’s time is divided. This may result in neither parent being happy with the arrangement and causing stress and upset for the children at what should be a happy time of the year, so it is always best if parents can agree to holiday plans together if they are able to do so.
We’re Here to Help
At National Legal Service, we understand that the Christmas period can be especially difficult for separated families. We are here to support parents as they make the best decisions for their children to ensure that they retain the joy and excitement they should feel at this time of the year. Our team of family solicitors is here to help, offering expert legal advice to make the Christmas holidays more enjoyable for everyone. Call us on 020 3601 5051 for friendly, professional support that will guide you towards the best possible course of action.