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The festive season is considered by many to be one of the most special times of the year.

However, for separated parents, the run up to Christmas can be an anxious and stressful time, particularly if they have not yet decided what the arrangements for the children shall be over the festive period.


How should the child’s time be divided?

For some parents, child arrangements are predetermined by the court through an existing Child Arrangements Order. A Child Arrangements Order sets out arrangements for the care of a child and is binding on all parties. Child Arrangements Orders can cover the Christmas break and should be followed unless parents can mutually agree on an alternative arrangement.

If parents do not have an order in place, or the order is silent on the arrangements over the Christmas period, it is up to parents to agree between themselves. There is no hard and fast rule in determining arrangements for children over the holidays, and no law in place giving a particular parent an absolute right to have their child at Christmas. This can make it difficult for parents to agree. Ultimately, the child should always be at the heart of any decision, and early communication and compromise is key.

It is advisable that arrangements are made weeks, if not months, in advance. This avoids last minute stress and pressure.


Typical Arrangements

Christmas arrangements vary from family to family. Some common arrangements that we see over the festive period are as follows:

  • Spending Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other;
  • Spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with one parent and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with the other;
  • Taking it in turns to have the child on alternate years;
  • Splitting Christmas Day between households (dependent on the distance between houses);
  • For the days between 23 December – 1 January, spending five days with one parent and five days with the other.

So, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Parents should be open-minded to the views of the other to try and reach a compromise that will work for them, and most importantly, the child.


What to do if Christmas contact arrangements cannot be agreed

In the first instance, unless there is good reason not to, parents should try and have direct discussions with one another.

If parents are unable to agree, it may be advisable to seek advice from a family law solicitor in advance of the Christmas holidays. A solicitor can provide specialist advice and assist with further negotiation.

Alternatively, a referral to mediation can be made to facilitate further discussion. A mediator is an impartial third party, who will explore any issues and assist parents in reaching an agreement outside of the court arena.

Parents should only be bringing disputes over children to court where absolutely necessary. If placed in a judge’s hands, their decision will be based on what they deem to be in the child’s best interests. A judge is likely to be of the view that the child should spend quality time with both parents over Christmas, unless there are any safeguarding concerns rendering this approach inappropriate.

Safeguarding concerns can include the following:

  • Abusive behaviour towards the child;
  • Drug / alcohol misuse;
  • Involvement in criminal activity.

If your former partner is preventing contact without good reason, the court can assist.

Court applications are always a last resort, and so it is advisable that the other avenues are explored first.

For confidential, trusted advice about arrangements for children, contact Jess Nicholson on

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