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Separated parents and Christmas contact – advice for the holiday season

Traditionally, Christmas is the time of year where families come together to celebrate in style, with the sight of fabulous decorations and the sound of Christmas songs turning December into a season of fun and festivities for parents and children alike.
Unfortunately, however, Christmas can also be a difficult and trying time for parents and children, particularly where issues arise as to whom the children will spend Christmas and New Year with should their parents have separated. Indeed, if this is the first Christmas since separation we appreciate how difficult it can be for parents and children to adjust to the change in circumstances, especially if all concerned are used to spending Christmas together as a family. To that end, it is important that steps are taken to make the adjustment as easy as possible. 
In the lead up to Christmas, it is advisable that separated couples plan ahead and put plans in place for Christmas contact as early as possible. The earlier contact arrangements are organised the better, as this will remove the uncertainty (and resulting stress) that can arise should no plans have been made in the weeks before Christmas.
Planning ahead can also help identify likely areas of dispute between separated parents at an early stage, meaning that there will be plenty of time for these potential disagreements to be resolved well in advance of Christmas. In terms of the actual division of contact, this will ultimately differ depending on the particular family’s circumstances, and careful thought should therefore be given as to whether contact can be divided equally between parents or whether it would be more suitable for the children to spend more time with one than the other. This of course can be a very difficult and emotional decision-making process, but it as a process that hopefully will alleviate stress and make Christmas as enjoyable as possible.
Disappointed parents should also remember that, whilst it can be heartbreaking not seeing their children on Christmas Day this year, Christmas contact arrangements can be revisited and altered in the future, and the hope would be that a happy medium can be agreed whereby both parents see their children on Christmas Day (perhaps on an alternating years basis). Depending on their age, it may also be appropriate to speak to the children about their preferred contact schedule over the holiday season.
We appreciate that it is not always possible for parents to communicate effectively in relation to contact arrangements, particularly where the separation is not amicable. Where discussions between parents have broken down we would strongly recommend that consideration is given to resolving issues through mediation whether that be under the auspices of CALM or Family Mediation Scotland. If that is not possible then the next step would be to consider solicitor led negotiation or collaborative practice. Ultimately if all else fails then recourse can be made to the courts. 
For further assistance or advice please contact a member of our Family Law team.