Christmas Contact and Child ArrangementsDec 02, 2021
Child contact arrangements at Christmas are often a source of panic for parents who have separated. Inevitably, both parents want to share the magic of Christmas with their children. Unfortunately, children can’t be in two places at once. This means arrangements must be made to ensure each parent gets to spend a fair amount of time with their children over the festive period.
It is important to remember that Christmas Day is the day that everything centres around. It is also important to remember that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ pattern for contact around Christmas.
Some families incorporate New Year into their pattern and some families focus just on Christmas. It is worth considering what dates you feel are important for you to celebrate with your children. Additionally, what dates the other parent may wish to spend with the children also. However important these days are to you, they will hold the same importance to the other parent. Therefore, Christmas contact will largely come down to compromise.
Where a Child Arrangement Order is in place
If you have a Court Order in place that sets out who the children spend time with and when, it is worth checking the Order to see whether Christmas contact was also decided and incorporated into the Order. If it is and you are still happy with those arrangements, it is best to follow that pattern because that is what the Court has determined is in the best interests of the children.
Supposing that you feel the pattern is no longer suitable or the current Order does not specify a contact pattern over Christmas, you may wish to speak to the other parent directly and arrange an alternative plan between you. If that is not an option, you may wish to seek legal advice as to your options.
Where possible, an amicable agreement is always best.
Where there is no Child Arrangement Order in place
If there is no current Court Order in place, it is still worth trying to arrange the contact pattern between the parents.
It is important to consider the other parent’s contact is just as important as your own. The children should have quality time with both parents over the festive period. There is no automatic preference for Christmas to be spent with one parent or the other.
If an agreement cannot be reached, you may wish to speak with a lawyer to consider your options.
Ordinarily, the 3 golden days of Christmas contact are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. A popular arrangement would be for Parent 1 to have the children for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning. Parent 2 to have the children for Christmas Day afternoon and Boxing Day. This pattern should alternate each year.
If New Year is important, perhaps Parent 1 would have the children on New Year’s Eve. Parent 2 would have the children on New Year’s Day. This should also alternate each year.
For other families, it may be appropriate that Parent 1 has the children for the first week of the school holidays. Parent 2 has the children for the second week, alternating each year.
However, as said above, there is no pattern that will suit every family with separated parents. Any pattern should be agreed with the best interests of the children in mind, not based on when the parents want contact.
1. What do the children want?
This point is paramount. Consider your children’s wishes and feelings. Would they want to spend some time with each parent on Christmas Day? Would they enjoy having a delayed, second Christmas Day with the other parent on Boxing Day or later?
It is really important that any contact pattern suits the wishes and needs of the children. Agreeing a week-on/week-off pattern that would cause upset to the children is not child-focused and a contact pattern should primarily be about the children’s needs rather than the parents’ wishes.
However, it is vital to remember it is not the children’s responsibility to choose because it is an unfair burden to place on them. Ensure they know their views are being taken into consideration but it’s important to remind them that what happens may be different to ensure it is fair to the other parent.
2. What is practical?
Work schedules and issues with travel can be difficult to navigate any time of the year, but when considering what pattern fits around other issues will save time and stress later on.
If you have to work over Christmas, it is worth ascertaining what days you will have off as early as possible. This gives you the maximum amount of time to arrange a suitable plan with the other parent to ensure you get to spend time with the children.
Try not to agree to the impossible because when you inform the other parent it’s not doable, this causes stress because alternative arrangements have to be made and cancelled plans will have a negative impact on children at the most exciting time of the year for them.
Be realistic and be honest about your availability.
3. Think about plans in advance and communicate
Lots of people dread hearing the ‘C’ word any time before Christmas Eve. However, when it comes to making arrangements for the children, there is no such thing as too early. It ensures everyone knows what is happening and no one is left wondering when or if they might get to see their children.
Approaching the topic early also means there is plenty of time to discuss and solve any potential issues that may arise.
If the issue of Christmas contact has not arisen, raise it. Being proactive is not a bad thing and may save disappointment in the future.
If your communication with the other parent is difficult, consider whether a family member or a friend could approach the conversation on your behalf.
4. Be fair and be willing to compromise
It is understandable that you will want Christmas Day with the children but understand the other parent will also want the same.
Consider the needs of the children combined with what is practical for both parents and suggest a pattern that allows the children to enjoy the festive period with both parents.
Remember, it is only fair that the plans alternate each year so what you get this year, the other parent will enjoy next year.
5. Put it in writing
Whether you would ordinarily communicate by text, email or telephone, it is a good idea to ensure any agreement is in writing so that any potential confusion after the agreement is made can be avoided.
This allows each parent to refer to the agreement and prevents any disagreement over what plan was actually agreed.
6. Stick to the plan
Once you have confirmed the plans and everyone is happy with the arrangement, make sure you adhere to the plan unless it becomes impossible. At this point, approach the other parent respectfully and in good time.
7. Most importantly…
Enjoy the festive period with your family!
If you have any other questions or you would like some advice about how best to approach these conversations, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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