A simple guide for separated families to plan for the festive period

Christmas is a time for spending time with the family. However, the festive period can be difficult for separated families, especially if contact arrangements for the children have not been agreed or defined by way of an Order of the Family Court.

Although it seems there is enough time before Christmas, in reality it’s very little time to resolve these contact arrangements, particularly if an agreement between parents is not in place. A lack of clarity will inevitably lead to conflict between parents which can cause uncertainty and worry for the children.

Here are some suggestions that will help clarify these arrangements:

  • Approach the subject of contact with the children over Christmas with your ex-partner as early as possible. Establish an agreement in advance of the festive period so that everyone knows where they stand and can make plans.
  • Recognise that the children will want to spend time with both sides of their family to avoid them making a choice and feeling caught in the middle.
  • Avoid conflict and arguments where you can and ensure that the children do not witness or become aware of any disagreements between you.
  • Is sharing contact over Christmas Day appropriate or in the children’s best interests? Consider whether it would be better for the children to celebrate two Christmases, spending Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other parent. This arrangement could then be alternated the following year.  What is appropriate, or reasonable, will vary from case to case, and will depend on the individual circumstances.
  • Once an agreement has been reached, it may be worthwhile exchanging texts /e-mails to confirm what has been agreed so as to avoid any further misunderstanding. Depending on the ages of the children, it may be appropriate to ensure the children know what is happening and when.  
  • If an agreement cannot be reached, it will be necessary to make an application to the Family Court for a Child Arrangements Order without delay.  This is a legal agreement between the court and the parents / guardian of the child and would stipulate the arrangements for you. It is worth noting that an application for a Child Arrangements Order will be listed for a hearing before the court within five to six weeks of the application being submitted. Given the volume of cases the Family Court deal with in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is highly unlikely that your application will be heard on an urgent basis and you certainly do not want to be in court on Christmas Eve.

Though each situation can vary, it can still be challenging and emotionally exhausting. BLM’s experienced team of family lawyers have assisted on such matters with sensitivity and care to avoid any negative impact separation can have on the well-being of children.

This article was published in the Wirral Globe and can be accessed here on page 55.

Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to clients of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.