The season of goodwill does not always seem to extend to separated and divorced parents. Inadvertently, neither does it then extend to their children. Deciding where the children spend Christmas and with which parent are amongst the most sensitive and divisive decisions for newly divorced couples to make.
Who is Christmas for? The children who are caught in the middle, or their parents who put them there? With a little thought and co-operation, everyone can enjoy the festive season. Disputes over those precious 48 hours should not ruin the remaining 8,688 available in the year.
Here is how to avoid the battles.
1. Talk to your children. Christmas really is particularly special for them so make sure whatever differences you and your former partner have are put aside so the children can have the experience they deserve. If they want to see you both on Christmas Day, try and make sure they can. If this really is going to be impossible due to distance or other reasons, explain this to them so they still feel loved and listened to. And then tell them how lucky they are to be getting two Christmases.
2. Talk to each other about presents and remember who they are for. Listen to what the other has to say about what is and isn’t acceptable. Don’t turn it into a competition about who can buy the most expensive present. Your children won’t love you more, and an imbalance in purchasing power often breeds resentment.
3. Settle handover arrangements far in advance. And try to avoid relying on public transport which tends to vanish from the roads on Christmas Eve. Decide who is going to deliver or collect based on which is the most practical and reliable, and then stick to the arrangements.
4. Don’t ruin Christmas Day for the parent who is cooking dinner by filling the children with chocolate and junk food before they leave.
5. New partners are an age-old problem at Christmas, especially if the relationship is a more recent one. This issue can be exacerbated if both parties have children. In the first instance, try not to over-compensate and, if possible, make arrangements to have the children on different Christmas days in the beginning.
6. Make Christmas a positive experience whenever you see your children over the festive period.Obvious perhaps but a reminder can’t hurt. The prospect of a drunk and vindictive parent is not going to make for a happy day.
7. Try and avoid surprises. These are often what cause last-minute upsets, so stick to the plan and do what has already been agreed. Ultimately, Christmas is for your children. Lay your shared plans from that perspective, exercise some common sense and remember to tell Santa where to leave his presents.
James Skinner is a family lawyer at Simpson Millar solicitors. Each year, his team helps separated and divorced parents agree plans for Christmas and resolve disputes before they ruin the festivities.