Agreeing on contact arrangements for parents and children during the Christmas period can be a difficult process for some separated families. Louise Cannell-Mirza, a specialist in private law contact disputes at Ward Hadaway, advises how to minimise conflict when you are planning family time over the festive period.

Christmas is always a difficult time of year for separated parents particularly when it comes to organising the contact arrangements for children.

To their credit, many separated families can work together to plan the contact time where the best interests of the children are paramount. Sadly, that is not possible in all families for a variety of reasons and the issue of where the children will be on or around Christmas, can become highly contentious.

In some cases, there are already Court Orders in place setting out the arrangements. When there are no such Orders, our advice is always to try and make plans as soon as possible to avoid uncertainty and stress, for parents and more importantly for children. The earlier this issue is resolved, the earlier everyone can enjoy the run up to Christmas, along with the holidays themselves.

Many families choose to alternate where children will spend Christmas eve and/or Christmas day yearly. Others chose to have two separate ‘Christmas Day’ celebrations throughout the festive period. When making decisions the children must be the focus but when arrangements are made last minute, or agreements cannot be reached, the interests of the children can become lost in the dispute.

For those separated parents who are, unfortunately, not in a position to talk the arrangements through, communicating by email or text message may be more helpful and also ensures any agreed plans are in black and white.

Children should not be involved in making the arrangements, unless they are old enough to confirm their wishes and feelings on the plans themselves. Sadly, children can often become the conduit for making arrangements between parents; and when there is disagreement, they are caught in the middle. Similarly, they should not be exposed to any verbal arguments on the subject; this will only lead to upset and torn loyalties for them, rather than excitement for the festive period.

Making arrangements early is the only way to ensure plans run smoothly and to avoid any last minute court applications for a Child Arrangements Order to resolve the contact dispute.

In a nutshell:

  • Agree the arrangements for spending time with your children over the Christmas period as early as possible, so everyone is clear as to what is happening.
  • Don’t make the arrangements through your children. If talking face to face isn’t an option, think about making arrangements via email, text or messenger.
  • Try and agree arrangements between yourselves first, before sharing the plans with your children. If this is proving difficult, don’t expose your children to your stress or frustration.

If you are not able to reach an agreement, seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity to allow us to help you reach a resolution. Louise Cannell-Mirza specialises in private law contact disputes and can be contacted on 0330 137 3202 or by email louise.cannell-mirza@wardhadaway.com.