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As a family law specialist, at this time of year much of my time is spent helping separated couples plan the arrangements for the children over the festive period. Where will the children wake up on Christmas morning? When and how much contact will the children have with both sides of the family? These are clearly emotive issues which need to be resolved by the parents amicably and well in advance of the big day.

It is absolutely clear that uncertainty and acrimony during the Christmas period will have a negative effect on children. Of course it is nice having your child with you on Christmas day but there are 364 other days when the child needs to know they are cared for so parents need to be able to work together to agree the arrangements for the children throughout the year.

Applications to courts from parents trying to make arrangements for contact with their children now need the parents to show  that they have tried to resolve their issues themselves through mediation (except in very special cases). That said, if the parents cannot agree the arrangements themselves then a court application will most likely not be the “quick fix” solution and can often cause increased hostility over the festive period which may be picked up by the children.

For separated couples seeking advice on the best way in which to make arrangements during the Christmas break or indeed any other special occasion, I would advise the following:

  1. Both parents ought to be able to discuss the arrangements sensibly and away from the children.
  1. The arrangements ought to be in the best interests of the children. The children should not feel under pressure to make uncomfortable decisions themselves and ideally the wishes and feelings of the children ought to be considered where appropriate.
  1. You must consider the long term arrangements rather that focus on the coming Christmas day in isolation. It may be a sensible idea to alternate the arrangements  from one Christmas day to the next so that  the parents will both get chance to spend time with the children on Christmas day and the children will know in advance with whom they will be spending time with and when.
  1. Plan well in advance – don’t leave the arrangements until last minute as this might cause the children confusion and distress and by planning early on, the parents will know who will be dropping-off and collecting the children and therefore whether or not they can have that glass of wine!
  1. Finally if you are unable to talk with the other parent ask a mutual third party e.g. a family member, friend, trained mediator or Solicitor to assist. Court should be seen as a last resort.

If you are concerned about the child care arrangements over the Christmas break or indeed at any other time of the year and would like some advice, our office is open until 3pm on Christmas Eve and will re-open on Monday 5th January 2015.  Feel free to call our Family Law Specialists on 0161 930 5151.