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Planning Christmas as separated parents

It’s that time again when we’re transitioning into the colder months and with that, Christmas is just a stone’s throw away. Whilst it may seem like there is plenty of time to make your Christmas plans, when co-parenting following separation, there is a lot more to consider and forward planning is always advised. 

Parents often feel a lot of pressure to make sure the Christmas period is a special time for children – and when co-parenting, agreeing on the best option for them can incur a lot of tension and friction between both parties and even extended family members. 

As a last resort, the courts do sometimes decide Christmas arrangements for your family, but this should always be a last resort and avoided wherever possible.  At present, there are extensive delays in the court system, which means that there may not be time to consider any such applications in time and the court will likely criticise parents who have not been able to make arrangements without recourse to court.  

We recommend firstly, trying to sort plans between yourselves amicably and if you are unable to agree then family mediation should be attempted with a view to reaching an agreement with the assistance of a specialist family mediator. Although families are complex and there’s no one size fits all solution, we’ll discuss some of the options you have to help you prepare for the big day in this article.

Keeping up traditions and preferences

When it comes to Christmas, it’s important to remember who and what it is for. Other than the religious aspect of the holiday, Christmas is always a special time for children where life-long memories are created. So, it’s essential to ensure your children’s best interests are the top priority with child arrangements during the festive season ultimately catering for the children and their best interests. Avoid bringing the children into any upset, disagreements or tension between the parents and extended family, which will likely ruin what should be a happy event.

A good way to plan for Christmas is to consider what Christmas was like before you separated. Did one of you enjoy the Christmas period more than the other? Perhaps the child/ren spent more time with one side of the family at Christmas? Sometimes it’s best to stick with traditions and what the child/ren know, especially if it’s their first Christmas with separated parents. 

Splitting the day

The obvious choice may seem to split Christmas Day in half – the child/ren spend Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning at one parent’s, and Christmas afternoon and night with the other. 

However, splitting the child/ren up from one parent on the day can cause a lot of emotion and upset – meals are taken later in the day, wider families get involved and the child/ren will want to enjoy their new presents. If there are other children involved too – like half and step siblings – separating them halfway through the day might not be in their best interests. 

Seeing both parents on Christmas Day can be possible for those who co-parent amicably. One solution could be to find a way that both of you are with the child/ren at the same time – perhaps to open presents in the morning or to have Christmas dinner together.

Making new traditions

To avoid further heartache and upheaval near the Christmas period, it’s sensible to set new traditions and regimes for the Christmas holidays. This could be in the form of an ongoing agreement that throughout the child/ren’s childhood, they will spend Christmas with each parent on a rotational basis. For example, they will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with one parent one year, and the following year the child/ren will be with the other parent. For the child/ren this would mean they could benefit from two Christmasses, enjoying Boxing Day as a second celebration day with the other parent and spending quality time with both sides of the family.

Alternatively, you could arrange to always spend Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas Day with the other. This gives you and the child/ren some stability when it comes to Christmas by knowing precisely what you’ll be doing from one year to the next.

When’s the best time to sort the arrangements? 

You may be thinking that it’s too early to be discussing Christmas but don’t wait – try and settle the arrangements as early as possible – especially if you suspect you may require legal assistance to come to an agreement. By the time the festive season arrives, everyone involved will benefit from not having the added pressure or stress on what should be a happy and memorable holiday.

If you cannot reach a reasonable agreement at an early stage, this gives you time to seek professional advice or consider mediation to resolve the disagreements. 

At Bridge Law, our specialist family law team can help advise and assist you with any issues related to child arrangements and separation. If you need advice, contact us on 01484 442 700 (Holmfirth office), 0161 427 0084 (Marple Bridge office) or email

Written by Carol-Anne Baker

Child Arrangements, Co-Parenting, Family Law

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