'Tis the Season of Goodwill…
As the festivities take off this weekend with the switching on of the Christmas lights around town, arranging the time you spend with your children over the Christmas period is a top priority.
Special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays often highlight the difficulties and tensions within families and trying to agree when the children will spend time with both of you can be challenging.
So, what is the best way to divide up the time? The answer is to do whatever works best for your children. That is not the same thing for all families and as solicitors we are often asked to tell parents what is “normal” or “routine” when parents split up. There are no set rules or expectations.
One thing I always tell my clients is that it is not possible for there to be a “perfect” arrangement since both mum and dad ideally want to spend all their time with the children over Christmas and neither of them would choose to give any of that time up. However, there must be compromises on both sides to make the best of the situation for the children.
Here are 10 tips to make the festive period as smooth as possible:
1. Put the children first - Remember your children are the most important people in all of this. What would be best for them (not what is best for you)? There may be lots of unresolved disagreements between the adults, but Christmas is a time for children – call a truce over the festive period!
2. Plan ahead - Raise the issue early so that you have plenty of time to discuss arrangements and reach agreement. Ultimately if you don’t agree then you may need to go to court. It’s always better to try and agree the arrangements yourself because a judge does not know your children, your traditions at Christmas or your family dynamics. If you need help to discuss arrangements, then consider mediation with an organisation such as Relationship Scotland. The earlier you think about this, the more time you will give yourself to look into all the possibilities.
3. Be flexible – It is physically impossible for the children to be in two places at the same time. Is it best to split Christmas Day and make the children move homes when they have just opened their new toys and want to play with them? For younger children especially, it may be better for them to spend the whole day in one home and then another day in the other. Take into account the travelling distances between the two homes as well: no child wants to spend hours in a car travelling on Christmas Day. So while a split of time on Christmas Day might work well for some families, for others it might be better to spend a few nights with each parent instead. Change your thoughts about “Christmas Day” to “Christmas Time”. The arrangements could be reversed for the following year.
4. Communicate - Consider the other parent’s plans when making your own. Do they want to take the children further afield to spend holiday time with grandparents or cousins or friends? Does one parent have close family abroad and have the children been used to going there over the Christmas period? Consider where the children will have dinner too. If they’ve eaten at lunch time with one parent then is it best to arrange your Christmas dinner for the evening? There’s only so much turkey they can eat!
5. Be reasonable – consider the arrangements for before Christmas too and whether those might need to be reviewed to allow children to attend parties, or visit relatives whom they may not be seeing at Christmas etc.
6. Write it down – Once you’ve reached agreement share a written note of the arrangements to avoid misunderstandings.
7. Talk to the children - It might also be important to make sure the children know what is happening and when too. They might need reassurance that Santa will deliver their presents to a different house to usual, or maybe even to two houses!
8. Presents – Although tempting to try and out-do your ex with the number of presents bought for the children, this is likely to cause resentment, especially if there is a disparity in earnings. Separation is expensive and this might be a difficult time financially for all of you. Try to agree budgets with your ex in advance so there is no competition.
9. Talk about the other parent – Recognise the children’s relationship with their other parent and open the conversation about what they have done with the other parent to celebrate Christmas. Giving the children permission to talk about their time with the other parent helps them not to feel guilty about having fun when you’re not there. Allow them to enjoy time with both of you.
10. Enjoy – Most importantly, enjoy the time you do spend with your children!
Balfour + Manson is skilled at helping clients sort out contact arrangements. Please get in touch if we can be of assistance.