Child Contact Arrangements at Christmas for Divorced and Separated Parents

As a Manchester children solicitor my thoughts turn to Christmas a lot earlier than many other parents. That is because whenever I talk about custody and access arrangements, with parents I encourage them to reach an agreement, in principle, about what how special times of the year, such as Christmas, Easter, Passover, Diwali and New Year should be shared between them .

It can be difficult to think about Christmas access with divorced or separated parents in a heatwave in August, such as we had this year, but it is always sensible to plan ahead and have an agreement about how holiday and other special times, such as a child’s birthday, are shared. Advance planning means that parents don’t need to renegotiate the arrangements for Christmas each year.

Some parents are very fortunate because, despite their separation or divorce, they’re able to co-parent their children so everyone gets to spend Christmas day together. For many separated families that just does not work, either as a result of new relationships and step children or because whilst the parents can put their differences aside for the children they know that grandma or grandad will not be able to do so.

The other major headache when trying to reach an agreement over the principles of Christmas access and contact is geography. Understandably separated or divorced parents may want to spend Christmas at their parent’s home or with a sibling, many miles away from the family home and from the other parent’s property. The problems are compounded when the other parent’s family also live a long way away from them, particularly when both parents or other relatives are working and the Christmas and New Year period is the only time to catch up with family because everyone can take time off.

So, how do parents reach an agreement over Christmas access and contact? As an experienced children solicitor I always recommend that parents try and put themselves in the other parent’s shoes and try and understand their perspective. For example, Christmas may be a particularly important and emotive time if a grandparent is unwell.

If all else fails, parents can make an application to court for a judge to decide on the precise Christmas access arrangements. Nowadays the court makes what is known as a child arrangements order rather than an access or contact order. However, whatever the formal name of the court order, it does the same thing, namely tell parents how much time they can spend with their child over the Christmas holiday.

In my experience as a children solicitor, Christmas contact or access proceedings can be an expensive exercise, not so much in legal costs and fees, but because parents risk further souring their relationship with one another through arguing and taking court action over Christmas contact. Many parents will say that they have ‘no relationship’ with their child’s mother or father so court proceedings can’t make things any worse. However a court case can make things worse for the child who will inevitably hear about the court application. Furthermore, if a court case for Christmas access is started there is no guarantee that a judge will make the order that either parent wants. That is another reason why negotiation and Christmas compromise can be better for the whole family as at least then the parents have not had a judge impose a decision on them.

The Perfect Christmas Child Arrangement

So what is the ideal Christmas access arrangement? As a children solicitor, I have negotiated many different types of Christmas access arrangement. The important thing is that whatever parents agree to that the arrangements work for their children. After all if either parent were to make an application to court for a child arrangements order the court would make its decision on Christmas contact based on what the judge perceived to be in the child’s best interests , rather than the arrangements that suit either parent.

The reality is that, in my experience, children give very little thought to the day that they celebrate Christmas on and if Christmas comes early with one parent or late one year then the children are still delighted by the magic of Christmas, whether it takes place on the 25th December or not. So, I always recommend that parents reflect on their plans for the day and think if they are trying to fit in too much for the child on the one day by juggling two Christmas lunches and present openings together with transport between homes. Is it preferable to alternate Christmas contact arrangements? For some families that is the best solution as it avoids rush on the day and allows the child the pleasure of spending time playing with toys, with the knowledge that they will get to spend the following Christmas celebration with the other parent, and of course have a another Christmas celebration and presents on a day that just happens to not be the 25th.

To ask any questions about Christmas access and contact or court applications for child arrangements orders then please give me a call on  +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at [email protected]

Appointments are available at Holmes Chapel, Cheshire and Prestwich, Manchester.

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