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Making Christmas arrangements for your children following a divorce or separation

View profile for Graeme Barclay
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Christmas is the time to spend with loved ones and family; however for couples who have recently divorced or separated, it can be a particularly painful time.  If there are children involved who now need to split their time between parents and extended family, these feelings can be heightened when a parent is facing Christmas without their children, possibly for the first time, or can be exacerbated if agreements can’t be reached.  Graeme Barclay, Family Partner, explains his top tips for making these arrangements amicably, leading to a happy Christmas for your children, and you can avoid the timely and costly process of the Courts.

What would be your children’s wishes?

This is the most important advice for parents when considering arrangements for their children, and one that not only we advise but the Courts will base any decisions on. 

Your children will be coming to terms with your separation, and will not want to see their parents arguing over them as this will lead to feelings of guilt and mixed loyalties.  Putting your children at the centre of any discussions will help to put your arrangements into perspective, but doing so in the right way is important; do not ask them who they would prefer to spend Christmas.  You may think asking them this question is the fairest way to reach a decision but in reality this will put too much pressure on them when the decision should lie with the parents’.  

Also consider the logistics of any plans you make; if you live locally to the other parent it may be viable to share Christmas Day, but this would not be answer if the children would be disrupted and expected to make a long car journey between families.

Make arrangements in plenty of time

Your arrangements over the Christmas period should be decided on well in advance, not waiting until the week before.  This will only add to the stress between parents, and if agreements can’t be made, will leave no time for negotiations or Family Mediation.  Your children will feel more settled if they are told well in advance of where they will be spending Christmas and who with.

Be prepared to compromise

As both parents will wish their children to spend as much time with them as possible, any arrangements made with involve some disappointment.  Parents should recognise this fact and be prepared to compromise; ensure you are being realistic with your requests as to when you’d like to see them, and that you are clear about the reasons behind them.  It may be that you wish them to see certain members of your family who are only local for particular days.  If you struggle with face to face communication, consider emailing or texts to keep calm and express yourself.  Alternatively, you can involve other members of your family who may have a better relationship.  This is also useful to consider when discussing handovers between families.

Agree not only on time, but also on presents

Working together on the presents for your children will mean that there is no duplication, and one parent is not left with smaller gifts in the eyes of the children.  This is an opportunity to show your children you are still on a united front, even if you are not together; you could consider doing joint presents.

Alternating each Christmas 

From our experience, in cases where agreements can’t be reached and parents end up in Court, the Judge rules that the children alternate the time they spend with each parent  each year, obviously depending on the situation at hand.  This is useful to bear in mind when making your plans, and if you feel that your circumstances may lead to this, don’t seek too much time with the children this year as you may well get very little next year in return. 

Keep to the agreement

Another crucial element is to ensure that any arrangements that are made are abided by.  If there are legitimate reasons why you are late either picking up or dropping off children, then this could be excused, however any deliberate delay will jeopardise your future contact and relationship with the other parent.

Every family will be different, and arrangements will depend on your current contact arrangements, the history of your relationship and how you wish to spend time with your children in the future.  If you have any questions about making arrangements for your children, or you are struggling to agree with your former partner, contact Graeme on 02380 717431 or email to discuss your options.


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.