Children all over the UK are waiting eagerly for Christmas. However, when parents are separated or separating, Christmas can be challenging, difficult and even upsetting so how can parents agree where their children spend Christmas?
Before we look at the detail, it is crucial to remember the most important thing. Everyone involved must put aside their differences to find a way for the children to spend time with both of their parents during the festive season.
This of course makes sense on a human level. However, it is also legally correct. In family law, neither parent has either a right to see their child at Christmas or the ability to claim their access takes priority over their former partner’s. The law clearly says a child has a right to see both parents if they wish to.
It is also important to remember that unless you have specifically agreed to spend Christmas together, your children cannot spend time with both of you. This means a compromise has to be struck if you are to answer all the questions surrounding the issue of where your children will spend Christmas.
What are the main issues to resolve regarding children at Christmas?
Evey family’s situation is of course different. This means the issues they will need to tackle will be different. However, some of the most common issues families find themselves having to resolve include:
- Where the children will spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year.
- Who the children will spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year with.
- What gifts each parent will get for the children.
- How and where the children will see their grandparents and wider family.
- What will happen if one parent is planning to take their children for a holiday around the Christmas period.
- How and where children will see a parent with a new partner and/or family over Christmas.
The sooner you and your former partner can address the decisions that will need to be made, the better it’ll be for everyone involved. The longer it is left, the more likely it’ll be that one parent will either have made plans or will have a fixed idea of what they think the schedule should look like. Both make it even harder to reach an agreement both parents are happy with.
During these discussions, you need to do everything you can to remain calm and conciliatory. It will not only make the process easier for you, but also make everything so much more comfortable for the children. You can also help set the tone of these discussions; you may not be able to control how your former partner acts, but you can control your own actions and emotions. Again, this will make the process much easier for your children.
While it may not be comfortable – particularly if your separation has been acrimonious – you should try to communicate in person if possible, or via Teams or Zoom or at the very least by phone if not. The tone and content of a text message or email is too easy to misjudge and misread and an exchange of lawyers’ letters will soon become expensive and could inflame the situation if they appear confrontational.
What are the options when it comes to where and with whom your children spend time over Christmas?
The following suggestions in no way constitute legal advice. Similarly, given your situation, they may not even be workable. But they are solutions we have seen work in the past so they might give you some ideas as to where you could start your discussions.
Split the three main days of Christmas in half
The children would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent, then the rest of Christmas day and Boxing Day with the other. If it enables you to progress your discussions, you could agree to switch who has the first and second halves each year.
Take one week of the school holidays each
You could agree to the children spending the first week of the school holidays (Christmas) with one parent and the second week (New Year) with the other. Again, you can alternate which parent has which every year.
Have two Christmas Days
One parent can host Christmas on Christmas Day and the other can host a second on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.
What can you do if you can’t reach an agreement?
If you are not able to reach an agreement over where and with who your children should spend Christmas, it may be worth talking to a family law professional.
They may be able to reach an agreement with your ex-partner either direct or through their lawyers. They can then formalise the terms you agree in a legal document so both parties have a record and recourse should the other party not comply with the agreed terms.
If this doesn’t work, you could consider mediation.
The mediation process is designed to give you a forum in which to discuss and agree the best way forward with a trained third party, the mediator. Your mediator can’t give you legal advice, they simply chair the conversation and carefully nudge it forward.
If both your lawyer and mediator are unsuccessful, you may need to consider making an application to the court. If this is the route you choose, you will need to show the court that you have already made every responsible attempt to reach a resolution.
However, and this takes us back to where this blog started. Unless there are potential safeguarding issues, the court will almost always consider it is in the children’s best interests to see both of their parents over Christmas and, therefore, start by finding the best way for them to do so.