A cartoon Santa Claus waves through a circle - 3D render.

 

 

The Christmas season is fast approaching and for many, this time of the year is seen as time to spend with family and friends. However for separated parents, the Christmas season can present a trigger point for conflict around Christmas access.  Undoubtedly each parent wants to spend time with their children at Christmas. This unfortunately is not always possible. It is important to remember however that the children should be prioritised at all times when arranging Christmas access and should not be involved in a tug of war. The following are some tips that we at FitzGerald Solicitors would recommend in relation to Christmas access.

 

 

 

  1. Plan the arrangements well in advance. If it is going to be a source of conflict, it is in everyone’s interests that it is planned in a structured manner and not at the last minute when tensions are high.

 

 

 

  1. If it is possible to reach agreement directly between you, be sure to record clearly what is agreed in writing by email or text message. This will mean that both parties will know exactly where they stand and it removes the possibility for any misunderstandings,  miscommunication or confusion.

 

 

 

  1. If it is not possible to reach agreement and if there isn’t a schedule already provided by a Court Order, then consider mediation or consulting your solicitor to agree a compromise. Again it is important that this is done well in advance of the Christmas break. Frequently, the week running up to Christmas is an extremely busy time for family lawyers. People are then forced to make decisions in a short period of time. Equally if it is not possible to agree at all, then you may have to make an application to Court to determine the issue and it is important that you leave enough time to bring a Court application. The Court lists would already be full for this time of the year and you will not get priority simply because you leave it to the last minute!

 

 

 

  1. Consider what the children would like and what suits them best. Christmas is predominantly for children and not the adults. Do not ask the children directly particularly if they are of a young age. It’s unfair to expect your children to choose between you.

 

 

 

  1. Consider alternating the arrangements each year. For instance, if you and your ex-partner are on civil terms, consider perhaps your ex-partner coming to the house in the morning to open the Santa presents with the children.  The other parent could then spend a few hours with the children and return them home for Christmas dinner. This parent could then enjoy St. Stephen’s Day with the children. Generally, we find that the arrangements that work best are those that are alternated each year, whereby one parent enjoys the majority of Christmas Day and the other parent then enjoys St. Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Eve.  The best solutions are where both parents spend time together with the children for a short period such as opening presents on Christmas morning.

 

 

 

  1. Discuss and agree the level of expenditure for Christmas and presents. Previously there was one household now there are two households that need to be maintained from the same family pot! Frequently one parent may try to compensate the children or make up for the fact the parents are separated by buying expensive presents. This leads to an imbalance and inequality between the parents and has the potential to lead to further conflict. Therefore, if possible try to agree the purchase of the larger presents that are from both parents.

 

 

 

  1. Keep conflict or the potential for conflict to an absolute minimum. In an ideal world, parents can co-parent and be civil and courteous to each other. However, this is simply not the case in some circumstances, particularly if the separation is ongoing, parties can become entrenched. If there is parental conflict, it is all the more important to ensure the children are not exposed to this at Christmas. Emotions and tensions will be high naturally and the last memory any parent would want their child to have is of a screaming match on Christmas Day.  Therefore consider asking a family member to do the handover at Christmas time to reduce any conflict. Also make sure that the arrangements are clear and unambiguous in terms of the schedule and responsibility for drop off and collection. Do not criticise or speak badly of the other parent in the presence of the children no matter what the circumstances are. Furthermore, it is crucial that the children are not used as messengers between you. If you can’t communicate directly, then do so via your solicitor or co-parenting counsellor and not your children.

 

 

 

  1. Consider arrangements for the extended family. Christmas is not just about the parents but also about the wider family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc. Try to ensure that the children get to see both sides of the family.

 

 

 

  1. Discuss whether the usual schedule needs to be altered for the holiday season. Aside from the big days such as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, are there events planned for the children which will mean swapping arrangements? Be flexible at all times in this regard to ensure that it is the children who benefit. Don’t deny the children the opportunity to go to the cinema or a pantomime simply because it doesn’t fall on the other parent’s allocated time.

 

 

 

  1. Relax and enjoy Christmas! Use the time that the children will be with the other parent to visit your own family and friends, catch up on your hobbies etc. If you are going to miss the children, keep yourself busy and active. Remember it is just one day.

 

 This article appeared in the Evening Echo on the 26th of November 2015. 

Please note the foregoing does not constitute legal advice. You should contact your Solicitor to seek advice tailored to your circumstances.

Annette Sheehan is a Family Law Solicitor with FitzGerald Solicitors. She was also a finalist for Family Law Team of the Year in the Irish Law Awards 2015.

 

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