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No Time Like the ‘Present’ – Children Arrangements during Christmas

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

With less than 10 weeks until Christmas, if you have not yet agreed arrangements for the children over the festive period, we recommend that you start having those conversations as soon as possible.

Every year, we see parents take advice too late regarding any issues or disputes about Christmas arrangements. These conversations can be difficult at the best of times and are only exacerbated by time pressures. It is better to start having the conversations as soon as possible to leave you sufficient time to take legal advice, if required.

A couple of years ago, a leading Family Judge provided clear advice that only as a last resort should parties bring any disputes about arrangements for the children over Christmas to Court. The Judge went further to criticise parents who brought the matter before the court and were reluctant to ‘micromanage’ arrangements.

While the advice was provided a few years ago, it remains absolute. Court proceedings should be avoided, and you should exhaust all avenues to resolve matters between you both, first. Here are our ‘Top Tips’ to help you with those negotiations:

The sooner discussions start, the better.

The festive period always comes round quicker than we expect. It is also a busy time of year, with both children and adults’ diaries quickly filling up with festive events. It is also an extremely emotive topic. We all want to spend as much time with the children as possible and be part of the ‘magic’.

It is therefore important to start the discussions as soon as possible. This is so that you can identify whether an agreement is likely to be reached between you both, or whether you may need third party intervention from a mediator, or instructing the help of a solicitor, to negotiate on your behalf.

If an agreement really cannot be reached, court proceedings may be required and, with court backlogs as they currently stand, there is no guarantee any application will be considered before Christmas.

Complete the groundwork.

Before you start negotiations, it is important to complete the groundwork. Identify what is most important to you. Is it spending time with the children on Christmas eve, or rather Christmas day? Do you or the children have plans with the wider family that you would like to be taken into consideration? Is travelling going to be an issue?

There is no one size fits all for every family, and ultimately it is a personal choice on what is best for the children in the circumstances of each case. However, one thing is certain. You must be prepared to be flexible. Inevitably you will both have things that you will want to achieve and not everything may be possible.

The children are the priority.

Christmas periods for separated families can be difficult, not only for the adults involved, but more importantly, the children.

Christmas is likely to look different to what it did last year, and it is therefore important that the children feel involved in the plans as soon as possible so that they can come to terms with what Christmas will look like this year.

Older children are likely to have more of an opinion on where they would like to spend their time and, whilst that is not necessarily determinative, it should certainly be a factor that you consider.

Once you have both identified a plan, it is important that you inform the children as soon as possible. Communication is key. The sooner the children have the time to digest the plans, the more comfortable they will feel when the time arrives. Irrespective of your own personal feelings towards the final plan, it is important that a positive approach is made for the children. Change can be exciting and is an opportunity to start new traditions.

Children feel safe and secure when they know the plan. Therefore, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You could create a visual calendar for the children to refer to, setting out where they will be during the festive period.

Consider the other parent.

There is no doubt that these discussions can be difficult and emotional. The idea of spending any time over the Christmas period without the children is not an easy one to consider for any parent. However, when negotiating, be honest with yourself as to whether the proposal you are making is fair on the other parent. We recommend asking yourself if you would find your suggestions being made acceptable if the tables were turned.

Put everything in writing.

Once you have agreed what will happen, put the agreement in writing in either an email or letter. This will ensure that you have covered all areas and prevent any future misunderstandings.

Generally, Christmas arrangements are alternated each year. Some spend Christmas Eve and the first part of Christmas morning with one parent, going to the other parent for the remainder of the day and Christmas night. New Years Eve and New Years Day can also be taken into consideration in any agreement. However, there is no one size fits all.

Wilson Browne Solicitors are there for you if you need any help or assistance with negotiations.

But remember the key piece of advice:

Start now.

Christmas will be here before we all know it.

Jess Leech


Jess Leech

Senior Associate

Jess is an Associate & Legal 500 Recommended Solicitor in our Family Law Team, who advises clients on all areas of Private Family Law including Injunction Orders (Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders), Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements, Divorce, Separation of Finances, Cohabitee Disputes and Children Matters.