Advice & Inspiration

Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Parenting Solo


Separated parents and Christmas – festive feuds or sleigh-loads of cheer?

Christmas can be the toughest time of the year for solo parents. Often, someone – be that mum or dad, half-siblings, or grandparents – will be left feeling they are missing out on seeing their loved-ones at a very family-focussed time. Family Law expert Charlotte Talbot of Beecham Peacock tells us how we can we best negotiate the festive period to keep everyone happy – and make sure the most important people – the children – grow up with only happy memories of Christmases past.

What arrangements do family courts generally suggest for separated parents at Christmas?

There are no set arrangements suggested by the family courts. The courts will always consider the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration. The most important person at this time is the child. It is important to try and agree the arrangements for contact as early as possible. Whilst both parents may wish to spend time with the child on Christmas day it is important to consider whether this is fair to the child, particularly when they are likely to be playing with new toys they have received. Consideration can be given to collecting a child on Christmas day evening or even Boxing day morning and having a second Christmas day on Boxing day.

For parents who want to avoid the legal route and ‘set in stone’ parenting agreements, what should they think about when planning Christmas?

It is always best if parents can work together to agree the arrangements. It is important to plan early and make sure the arrangements agreed are clear. Parents should always remember their child is the most important person and that Christmas can be an extremely tough and difficult time for youngsters. It is important that children are protected from any disagreements, and should not be involved in any of the discussions which take place between parents.

What are the main areas of contention, generally?

Spending time with your child on Christmas day is the biggest area of contention. In an ideal world, your child would spend time with both parents, however this does not consider how this may affect your child. Christmas day is just one day though and there are many other special occasions throughout the year which can be enjoyed together.

How much say should a child have in the arrangements – for example, what if they don’t want to leave their other siblings to go and stay with their non-resident parent?  

The wishes and feelings of a child are to be taken into consideration but they are not the overriding factor in the decisions that are ultimately made. The parents need to make the decision as to what is best for their child. A decision should not be left to a child as this can place then in an extremely difficult position – torn between their two parents who they love dearly. However, spending time with siblings and extended family over the Christmas period is important and does need to be taken into consideration when the plans are made.

 Should separated parents ever try to ‘do’ Christmas together or is this a recipe for disaster?

Spending time together over Christmas with an ex-partner can cause difficulties. Whilst all families are different it is likely to be very uncomfortable for both parents, and likely to cause an atmosphere which the child may pick up on and be affected by. In an ideal world, a child would like their parents to be together, but when separation has taken place spending time together over Christmas is likely to do nothing more than cause confusion and mixed messages.

Working together on the arrangements is not only less stressful for both parents, but your child will also benefit. Christmas is a time to enjoy with your children. Children’s memories of Christmas will remain with them forever and it is important that this time is made special for them despite separation.

Should extended families wishes be taken into account?

The arrangements for contact are a difficult balancing act, but it is your child’s needs that come first. They are paramount. Extended family can be involved in the arrangements, but it is important for the child to have their time with their parents arranged first to ensure they have good quality contact over the festive period with both parents.


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Parenting Solo

is an online resource for lone parents, offering news, debate, features and expert opinion. It is edited by journalist and broadcaster Kelly Rose Bradford.

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