• Posted

Are you facing your first Christmas as a parent after separating or divorcing? Find out how to best navigate this tricky time with some vestige of festive goodwill.

The advent calendar chocolates are fast disappearing. There are still presents to buy and cards to write. That’s not to mention the nativities, Christmas jumper days, work Christmas parties to attend… the list goes on and on!

It can feel overwhelming. Stripping that all away: what we all hope for is a relaxed, happy Christmas with our children and families. If you are separated or divorced, the prospect of dividing up time with your former partner or spouse may bring up all sorts of emotions in you: possibly sadness, anxiety, dread, anger.

As family lawyers, we often see divorcing clients with children worrying about how things will work over the festive period. However, a bit of careful planning can help Christmas go smoothly. Here are 10 tips to help you ensure the holiday period is as harmonious and happy as possible.

1. Find out your children’s wishes and feelings about the Christmas arrangements

Take these into account when negotiating the Christmas arrangements with your ex. You might not be able to deliver what your children want, or it might not be appropriate to do so. However, if your children feel they have been listened to, they are likely to be more accepting of the arrangements you make.

Consider what is best for your children over the holiday period and focus on ensuring that they have as settled and happy a time as possible.

2. Decide what your biggest wish for Christmas is and be prepared to give up others

Consider what is most important to you this Christmas. Is it taking your children to a carol service, sitting round the table together to enjoy the Christmas meal, getting together with your extended family or something else? Focus on achieving one thing and be willing to give up other wishes you may have.

3. Find out what your former partner or spouse’s biggest wish is and try to make it happen

Your former partner or spouse will also have their own hopes for the Christmas period. If you can find out what matters most to them and agree arrangements to bring it about, that will help to breakthrough negotiation if you are still in the process of making arrangements.

4. Plan the presents

Like it or not, Christmas ultimately means one thing to children – presents! If possible, communicate with one another about Christmas presents; a joint present might be appropriate, or you could set a budget so that you and your ex spend roughly the same amount on your children.

5. It’s quality time together that matters, not necessarily quantity

If your children are going to spend less time with you than you would like, try not to let that dampen your spirits. Focus on the time you have together to ensure it is positive and enjoyable for you all. Be fully present with your children and try to avoid distractions like long phone calls with overseas relatives.

6. Be willing to make a break from tradition for a smoother Christmas

Many people (myself, included) love tradition and feel Christmas isn’t quite complete without all the trimmings. Take a step back and consider what is best for your children: as long as there are no safeguarding concerns, they should spend good quality time with each parent.

To facilitate this, you might not be able to accommodate all the usual traditions. It is worth departing from some tradition if it makes for a less stressful Christmas for your children.

7. Include both extended families

For many people, Christmas is about getting together with family. Your children may want to see relatives who are special to them from both sides of their family over the holiday period. Factor in the needs of relatives, particularly grandparents, into your holiday arrangements if you can.

8. Manage expectations

The first Christmas after a separation or divorce can be a confusing and difficult time for everyone. Talk your children through in advance about what the arrangements are so they know when they will be seeing each parent and for how long, where they will be opening their presents etc.

9. Be ready to be flexible

Things don’t always go to plan – sometimes relatives arrive late, the turkey takes longer to cook than expected, the weather disrupts travel. Avoid planning arrangements so tightly that they all fall apart if something goes wrong.

10. Enjoy yourself 

Relax and enjoy the time you have with your children. Keep things in perspective – they will need good quality time with you through all of 2024 as well and beyond, not just this Christmas, so don’t make it all about the big day!

This article was written by Helen Clyne, a senior lawyer in the family and divorce team, and was first published in Talented Ladies Club in December 2023.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.