Having helped numerous families plan for child contact over Christmas, Silk Family Law solicitor Carly Hope shares her tips on agreeing Christmas contact arrangements amicably.

At this time of year, we are often contacted by separated or co-parenting families with questions around Christmas contact arrangements. Which parent should my child spend Christmas with? How do I fix child contact arrangements for Christmas when my ex and I don’t agree? What are my rights for seeing my children over Christmas?

The added complexities thrown up by the Covid19 Coronavirus rules and lockdown restrictions have meant we’ve had many more calls about Christmas contact arrangements this year.

In this blog post I wanted to share answers to some FAQs and general observations about how parents I’ve worked with have reached amicable agreements over Christmas contact arrangements for their children, and I’ll follow this up next week with a post on what the next steps would be if you aren’t able to reach agreement.

How do separated parents normally divide the Christmas holidays?

Generally speaking, separated parents agree Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are “ring fenced” and are dealt with separately to the rest of the holiday period.

It is up to you how Christmas is divided. It is common for separated parents to alternate Christmas Day with the children each year, so both parents get the chance to experience the magic of Christmas Eve and morning.

Another option is to to share Christmas Day with a handover after lunch or teatime if you live close to one another. You could also divide the holidays so one parent has one week with Christmas and the other has New Year and this could alternate each year.

By making the arrangements between yourselves, you can ensure they are suitable for your children and manageable for both parents.

Tips on agreeing Christmas contact arrangements

It is always best if parents can reach an agreement between themselves, so let’s start with some general tips that will hopefully help you plan for Christmas without the need to engage a family lawyer.

1. Start discussions early

With so much current uncertainty over Covid19 and lockdown, it may feel too early to fix a schedule. However, I always advise separated parents to begin Christmas holiday child contact arrangement discussions as early as possible, to allow plenty of time for resolving out any issues.

Agreeing arrangements now – even if you keep them flexible to allow for circumstance changes – will provide some certainty and allow all of you to enjoy the run up to Christmas with any difficult conversations already out of the way.

2. Communicate

Communication between separated parents can be difficult so I would suggest approaching the other parent using your usual method of communication to initiate a discussion about sharing the Christmas holidays. If you find it difficult to talk to your ex-partner, then consider asking a family member or friend to be present during the discussions. You should choose someone you both trust and get along with.

3. Listen and be willing to compromise

It is very important you keep an open mind when having discussions with the other parent and you should be prepared to compromise to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of your children. A lack of willingness to compromise runs the risk of communication with the other parent breaking down resulting in the need to seek assistance from a solicitor.

4. Stay impartial and avoid emotive language

As far as possible, keep emotions out of discussions. Your children’s best interests are the most important consideration when making the arrangements and you should always have this in mind. Stay focused on agreeing an outcome that works for everyone.

When you are talking about plans, be mindful that your children may overhear you or perhaps see what you are sending to the other parent. Try to remain calm and do not say bad things about each other in front of your children.

5. Consider your child’s views but don’t ask them to choose

If your children are old enough, they may have their own views on how they want to spend their Christmas holidays. It is important to listen to your children and let them know you are taking their opinions seriously. However, you also need to tell your children the arrangements may not be exactly what they want.

Whilst your children may express their views about the arrangements for Christmas, it is unfair to ask children what they want arrangements to look like, as this may place them under pressure. They may try to please you or become upset if they feel they are being unfair to the other parent.

6. Set out your agreement in writing

When you reach an agreement, it is advisable to set this out in writing in an email and send it to the other parent to confirm agreement. If there are any issues, these can be ironed out in good time before Christmas. This should also help to avoid any misunderstandings during the festive season as you will have something to refer back to.

7. Stick to the agreed plan

When you have agreed arrangements, stick to them*. Follow the hand-over times you have agreed and make sure you don’t speak unkindly to or about the other parent in front of the children. If you have any issues, address these at a later time, such as after bedtime or by email or text.

*Except in circumstances where there is a rule change in relation to the current pandemic and lockdown restrictions (see below).

Christmas contact and Covid19 Coronavirus

This year, we have the added uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing restrictions.

It goes without saying that parents should bear in mind current government guidelines and follow any rules in relation to mixing of households. At the time of writing, children are still able to move between the households of separated parents and I would expect that this will continue.

It is understandable you and the children will want to spend time with family, but this must be done safely and within the rules in force at the time.

Be prepared to be flexible with arrangements for the children and willing to adapt your plans if new rules or restrictions come in force.

What if I have an existing Child Arrangements Order?

You may already have a Child Arrangements Order in place setting out the arrangements for your children, including Christmas. Aside from changes noted above, this will remain in place.

If you have a Child Arrangements Order in place that does not set out arrangements for Christmas, and you cannot agree, you can make an application to vary the Child Arrangements Order so Christmas arrangements are set out in an Order for the future. Speak to a family lawyer to arrange this for you.

If you have concerns around your children’s safety or the other parent’s behaviour towards you and your children, do not hesitate to contact me or any of my colleagues at Silk Family Law. Our specialist family law solicitors will discuss your options with you and can provide advice on different options for protecting your child.

Hopefully you are able to agree child contact arrangements at Christmas by yourselves. For anyone who isn’t able to reach agreement, look out for my next blog post ‘We can’t agree over where our child will spend Christmas‘, which will be shared next week and will explain all the options available to you.

If you have any other questions or would like to discuss your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact me online or call me on 07912 228906.

Carly Hope is a solicitor at Silk Family Law. Her work has spanned family law and civil litigation, and she has a particular interest in children matters.

Photo credits: Paige Cody and Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash