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Contact arrangements at Christmas time

by Teelan & Silwal

30 November 2021

Christmas is traditionally a time of year when family and friends come together, whether or not you are a Christian celebrating the religious festival. Hopefully this Christmas will really be one to celebrate following the restrictions that have been in place, preventing many festivals, not just Christmas, being celebrated to the full.

But for many families, festivals and celebrations can bring their own unique difficulties, with tensions rising and old wounds surfacing as plans for the children have yet to be made.  So, what can you practically do to help alleviate those tensions and ensure that the children are not caught up in any battles between the adults caring for them?

For some parents, there may already be a timetable or pattern for contact that was drawn up.  Using Christmas as an example, the children may spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent, and then go to the other parent for lunch on Christmas Day and stay there for a couple of days.  That pattern would then alternate each year.  Other families may prefer for one parent to have the children for the whole of the Christmas period, with the other having them for the New Year period, and then alternate each year.  Others still may make different plans each year.  There is no right answer, just whatever works best for your family.

But for those families who are recently separated or where there is no timetable or pattern in place, then arrangements will need to be made.  The starting point is to communicate clearly with each other about potential plans.  It sounds quite simple, but we know that it can be anything but simple.  The aim however is to ensure that, as parents who have a responsibility to raise their children together until adulthood, disagreement and conflict are reduced.    

When you start to think about plans for Christmas, it is so important that the children are at the heart of the discussions between the grown-ups.  Indeed, in some families, the children should be included in those discussions, to ensure that they feel part of the arrangements for them, at a time of the year that is regarded by many as the best time of year for children.  You will need to be mindful of how the children will be feeling and what they would like to do, rather than just imposing your will upon them, and so the discussions will need to be framed in a child-centric way.

There are two questions you could ask yourself to see if what you are arranging is reasonable:

  1. Would the child within you would want to do what you are asking of your own children?
  2. Would you be happy to have the arrangements you are trying to agree with the other parent, to be imposed upon you?     

When arrangements are made, it is really important that you to stick to them, unless there are exceptional circumstances that arise, which require a change to the plan. If changes do need to be made, then update your children and help them to understand that sometimes there are situations that cannot be controlled and so changes are sometimes inevitable. 

Unfortunately, there are times when parents are unable or unwilling to reach agreement.  If that is the case, then you should take legal advice about the matter and aim for an agreement to be reached shortly thereafter.  Mediation is another tool at parents’ disposal to help them to communicate effectively with one another and for decisions to be made together.  Cooperative parenting to ensure that your children enjoy their time with both parents should be at the forefront of your minds.

Making arrangements can take time, so discussions about the proposed plan for the children at Christmas ought to start early.  Before you embark on this process, or at whatever stage you may be, please do watch this video, released by Resolution for Good Divorce Week, by clicking here.

This is about putting children first. Resolution has also released a parenting through separation guide, which many will find invaluable. Please click here to access it. 

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