Christmas is a busy time of year for us all. As a separated parent, Christmas can be even more stressful and difficult as you try to navigate all of the events of the season whilst perhaps dealing with the prospect of spending Christmas apart from your children. Burying your head in the sand can only delay the inevitable; making plans early can reduce conflict and provide certainty to all involved – which can be particularly important to children.
Years of experience as a family lawyer has taught me it is never too early to start making plans for Christmas.
First and foremost, it’s important to prioritise how the children feel and what is likely to work best for them. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of a child to please both parents in terms of time spent together over Christmas. This sort of burden can weigh heavy on children, so in order to reduce this, it can be helpful to establish routines fairly early on following a separation.
It may be possible for parents to arrange to split Christmas Day in half – with one parent seeing the children for Christmas eve and morning, and then the other having the children for the rest of the day and evening. Where geographical locations make this tricky, parents will often decide to take it in turns by year; therefore, each having the children stay with them for Christmas Day every two years.
This year, the cost of living crisis is also likely to have an impact on families and the way they approach the festivities. This is particularly relevant to presents, with many single parents having to cut back. Parents that have a cooperative parenting arrangement may agree that presents from the ‘Big Man’ be purchased jointly, therefore reducing some of the financial burden.
Some parents may feel the need to use gifts as a way to try and compensate for them not being there on Christmas Day or as a way of competing against their ex-partner. No gift can replace love, affection and spending time together, and taking this approach can sometimes create further animosity between parents. Having a shared gift list and agreeing who will buy what can be a way to ensure children receive the gifts they have asked for whilst keeping it civil between parents.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the prospect of Christmas as a child of divorced or separated parents doesn’t have to be upsetting. Where parents are able to work together to put fair arrangements in place, it can be possible for everyone involved to enjoy the best of both worlds, even if it might not ultimately be the ‘family’ Christmas you had hoped for.
Christmas time can put a strain on any relationship and those that are already under pressure can quickly unravel further. If parents cannot agree a way forward, it may be necessary for intervention in the way of a dispute resolution process, or as a last resort, via the courts.
The family law team at O’Donnell Solicitors are able to assist by providing advice and representation.