Having dealt with many family matters over the years, especially those involving children, we know that the festive season can be an emotional time. If conflict over Christmas child arrangements arises, this magical time for parents and their children can turn sour.

Forward and sensible planning is key to managing this difficult situation. Here are our top tips for a peaceful Christmas for separated parents:

1. Try to be balanced

You may not agree on many things, but for the majority of parents we deal with, they do agree that they each love their children and want to do right by them.  Despite your differences, it is especially important to try and find common ground and understanding. By remaining balanced, you will be in a better position to deal with disagreements about Christmas child arrangements. You will also be more willing to compromise.

2. Get the diary out

One of the biggest conflicts can be division of time between parents, and it can be a rather rigid argument on both sides as to why they “deserve” a certain amount of time. Christmas is a busy time of year full of family members, friends and events.

It is best to get the timetable agreed as early as possible and share this with the other parent. There are some really helpful apps that allow you to share a digital calendar – Cozi or Apple Calendar, for example. This way you are both informed all the time without feeling as though you are ‘checking up’ on the other. You can also record locations/plans for the children’s pick up/drop off in the calendar to prevent mishaps!

It is important to understand that the other parent is likely to have plans involving the children too. By being timely and sticking to the plans, there should be no nasty surprises. Equally, if there is a clearly unavoidable situation that causes a delay, be reasonable. Assume the sincerity of the other parent unless they give you a reason not to.

3. Have a children focused approach

It is important to be children focused in your planning. They will want to spend time with the people they love at this time of year. Consider whether it is practical to share or alternate Christmas day so that they can share their excitement with both parents.

You should under no circumstances ask a child to “choose” a parent. Their rota should be arranged for them in advance and divided fairly between the parents rather than placing unnecessary pressure on them.

4. Law and order

If there is a court order in place, it is important to comply with the terms of the order when making your Christmas child arrangements. Unless agreed between you any variation to the Order can only be made by the Court – however, except in extreme emergencies, this won’t be considered by the Court over Christmas. If you have genuine welfare concerns for your child, then you should seek advice from MASH/Children Services. Alternatively, you should contact the Police.

Unless there is a threat of violence the Police do not like to concern themselves with private law family disputes. However, if there is an order in place that says the child is to live with one parent and the other parent fails to return the child, the police do have the power to return the child. In the absence of any order, and with both parents sharing parental responsibility the police will only get involved in exceptional circumstances.

5. Be positive

Unless there is a genuine emergency, do not escalate matters over Christmas as this will have a negative impact upon your child. No parent wants their children’s memories of Christmas to be marred by their parents’ behaviour. Money may be a big subject for example – ask yourself – can it wait? While you may not mention such a dispute with the children, stress is noticeable and children can pick up on hostility.

Hopefully matters will resolve themselves through reasonable and calm dialogue,  but if not please do not hesitate to contact us in the New Year with any concerns.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all at Cartridges Law.