Christmas is a busy time of year in the family law world. Many separated parents find it difficult to agree on what arrangements are best for the children at this time of year. What works for one family, might not necessarily work for another. It can be difficult for parents to face their first Christmas after a separation, and even harder for the children. But holidays don’t have to be a battlefield. Here are some examples of different arrangements that might work for your family:
Children with one parent from Christmas Eve until Christmas morning, and with the other parent from prior to lunch on Christmas Day until Boxing Day.
This arrangement tends to work for families who live close to each other. It has the benefit of the kids seeing both parents on Christmas Day. Usually, this arrangement alternates each year. Some families place importance on waking up with the children on Christmas morning, while others focus on Christmas Eve, or Christmas lunch. This arrangement means the children get to experience what is special to them at Christmas with one parent in the first year, and the other parent in the second year, and so on. For some families, one parent’s tradition is to celebrate at Christmas Eve while the other tends to celebrate at Christmas lunch. For those families, they might choose to keep the same arrangements every year.
Children with one parent for the whole week in which Christmas falls, and with the other parent the week before or week after.
This arrangement may be more suitable if the parents do not live close to each other or who travel during the Christmas school holiday period. The advantage is that the children do not have to travel on Christmas Day and face a potentially uncomfortable handover between the parents. Again, usually this arrangement is one that would alternate each year so that the children get a chance to have Christmas Day with each parent alternating each year. Some parents (and of course the children) can find this arrangement particularly hard as they don’t get any time of Christmas Day. As the parents, it’s your job to make it easier for the children.
One of my clients had a wonderful idea for how to explain this to his children. He asked ‘Santa’ to write a letter to his children explaining how lucky they were to have two homes and two Christmases and telling them that Santa has scheduled a special delivery of some more of their presents on their second Christmas. It made the experience exciting and special for the kids, rather than focusing on ‘missing out’ on seeing them on Christmas Day.
Children with one parent at Christmas, but spending a few hours during the day with the other parent
This arrangement might work if you have very young children. In some cases, experts recommend that very young children do not spend long periods of time (and/or overnight time) away from their primary carer. In most cases, as the children grow older, they will spend increasing time with the other parent, and this includes at Christmas.
Children spending the whole of the Christmas holidays with one parent
This arrangement, although less common, might occur where the parents live a significant distance apart (such as overseas), and the children only get to spend school holiday time with the parent who is far away. For the parent not seeing the children in the holidays, they might like to have an early Christmas with the children before the holidays. Or they may prefer to organise for the other parent to give their gifts to the children on Christmas Day in their absence, and then speak to the children on the phone or on skype.
No special arrangement for Christmas
For some families, Christmas Day is not something they want to make special arrangements for, and instead they just stick to their existing holiday arrangements (which might be half holidays with each parent, alternating weeks, majority with one parent, etc). This suits families who are not particularly concerned with Christmas as a tradition (or are happy to celebrate it on another day) families who have different beliefs/religion, parents who don’t want to have multiple handovers during the holidays or parents who live a significant distance apart.
What arrangement is the best?
The best arrangement is one that you and your ex agree is the best for your children. The above is just a small sample of different arrangements that other parents have adopted. Yes, you can go to Court to have a Judge decide what Orders will apply in your situation, but arrangements agreed between the parents are more likely to work long term and suit the particular circumstances of your family.
Don’t leave it to the last minute and don’t assume you know what is happening during the holidays. Make sure you talk to your children’s other parent early, so that you are both on the same page and have a joint plan for Christmas and the holidays.