While the festive season is a joyous occasion for many people, for others, it can be a daunting, overwhelming, and difficult time if you are navigating a divorce or trying to figure out what is best for your children over the holidays. Our family law team has created a guide to help you navigate this tricky time of year and provide you with advice and guidance to help you through.
Looking after yourself at Christmas
If you have experienced a divorce, are recently widowed, have strained family relations or are spending the holidays alone, it may not be the holiday season you had anticipated, and you may therefore be looking for something different this year, including;
Volunteering can be so rewarding over the Christmas period. Not only is it beneficial for the person you’re helping, but is also a valuable use of your time and can help your wellbeing, too.
- Here are a few different things you can do:
- Deliver food parcels
- Help at a soup kitchen
- Organise donations at a shelter
For an extensive list of volunteering opportunities in your area, visit Do IT | Connecting people to do good things
Take yourself somewhere memorable
Christmas doesn’t have to mean staying in. Draw up a list of quirky places you’ve never visited before to tick off your list this season.
Become a house-sitter
Just like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, you can use the festive break to house sit for someone else. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you can go and stay somewhere new.
For house sitting opportunities, visit House Sitting | TrustedHousesitters.com.
Plan your perfect day
Although the media tells us that Christmas is a time for family and connection, in truth, it can be whatever you want it to be. Instead, why not make the most of this time?
Plan out your perfect day to the hour– what you will eat, what you will watch, how you will take care of yourself. Remember to add time in for pampering and self-care too. Gather some of the funniest comedy shows you have, arm yourself with some delicious food and drink, and get cosy on the sofa.
Reframe the narrative
Just because it might seem like everyone around you is spending time with other people, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily having a great time. Choosing to take control of your day and how you want it to be, puts you in the driver’s seat to reframe the narrative and create your own version this year.
How to navigate Christmas after divorce
Where should parents start?
Making plans for the festive period early is essential, as leaving plans until the last minute can often bring added stress, difficulty in managing expectations, and time pressure.
There is no right or wrong answer in terms of time spent with each parent and every family will be different, but the priority is ensuring that the children are spending quality time with both parents over the festive period. Some families choose to have two separate Christmas Days, others may divide the day in half or alternate each year.
When thinking about the arrangements, there are a few other elements that would be useful and helpful to consider.
- Travel time between parents and wider family members.
- Christmas isn’t just one day, so consider utilising the build-up and the time between Christmas and New Year for some added family time.
- If children make a list for Father Christmas, can both parents be involved and agree on what they will buy the children for their main gift? This can avoid unnecessary surprises and parents trying to outdo one another.
- If the children are not going to see one parent on Christmas Day, could a call (telephone or video) be facilitated at an agreed time so they can share what presents they received, and the absent parent can feel part of their day.
Looking to next year
Once a plan has been agreed or while considering one, think about whether this can be replicated each year or alternated. This will ensure that the children get to enjoy the time with both parents and know what to expect.
The festive period provides a time for reflection, so a good time to think about what has worked well or not so well, and whether anything could be tweaked for next year. It may provide the opportunity for parents to consider what will need to happen the following year regarding schooling, holidays and general support for the children.
An amicable arrangement is always preferable, if possible, for everybody’s sake, but especially for the children involved. If an agreement cannot be reached, there is a variety of help available to separated parents – such as mediation and, as a very last resort, an application can be made to court.
How to cope with family tensions over Christmas
Settling down to spend Christmas day together as a family can be stressful and often doesn’t go to plan. So how can you survive the day? Here are a few tips to help you through;
Be mindful of what you say
Show respect towards your family and expect the same in return. Often, tensions can arise because of brutal honesty or unsolicited advice. Consider your words carefully, and don’t say anything you would not like said to you.
If rifts exist already, they are not going to go away for Christmas Day. Keep the conversation light and hope that everyone finishes the day as happily as they can.
Let it go
This time of year can be stressful and someone will know what buttons to press to get a reaction, so pick your battles wisely and perhaps save them for another day.
Your guest list
Playing the role of referee at Christmas is not good for the mind or soul, so scale it down this year and spread it out. You don’t need to see everyone on one day. Different relatives on different days makes for a calmer and less time pressured Christmas.
Focus on you
At a time of year when time is precious and there is the opportunity to take a little time off hopefully, remember that you do not need to do it ALL. It can help to delegate jobs on Christmas Day, including asking for help with food prep, washing up, assistance with childcare etc.
Making child arrangements at Christmas
The breakdown of a relationship is never easy, and it can be even more difficult and emotional if children are involved, especially when it comes to making child arrangements over the holidays.
Being able to co-parent through a separation is essential in ensuring that any emotional stress or disruption for the children is kept to a minimum. Whether your relationship breakdown has been amicable, or there have been disagreements from both sides, there are various approaches you can take to reach a solution that works for you and your ex-partner, and more importantly, considers and protects the long-term interests and welfare of your children.
Try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner
If you and your ex-partner can reach an agreement on all matters relating to your children, then you do not need to go to court – you can record what you’ve mutually agreed in a parenting plan. However, we suggest you seek the advice of a family lawyer to ensure that your agreement is legally binding, should there ever be disagreements or issues further down the line.
Get help to reach an agreement through mediation or collaborative law
It’s natural to not agree on everything. However, just because you and your ex-partner can’t agree on every aspect of your children’s arrangements, it doesn’t mean they have to be settled in court. Mediation or collaborative law can be used as a way to work together to secure the best future for your children without the hefty court fees.
Ask the family court to decide
If you cannot reach an agreement between yourselves, or through mediation, then you can ask the family court to decide. As these court proceedings can be emotional and stressful, this approach should only be taken as a last resort.
After you’ve made your family court application
Once you’ve applied for a court order, then the court will arrange a ‘directions hearing’ with you and your ex-partner (i.e. both parents), designed to figure out what aspects you mutually agree or disagree on.
If there are no concerns over your children’s welfare, during the hearing you’ll be encouraged to reach an agreement if it’s in your children’s best interests. If you can agree, then the court will record what you’ve agreed in a consent order and could end the process. If you’re unable to reach an agreement at the first hearing, then the process will continue and the judge or magistrate will set out what the next steps will be.
Your children’s wishes will be considered (if applicable, depending on their age, etc.), as well as their emotional and physical needs and the possible impact that any changes to their routine may have on their wellbeing.
Enforcing a child arrangements court order
If your ex-partner is not following the court order, then you can ask the court to enforce it. It is worth noting that the court may not enforce the existing order if they feel your ex-partner has good reason to not follow it, or if they believe the order is no longer in your children’s best interests.
Taking children on holiday over Christmas
What’s the law?
You must get the permission of everyone with parental responsibility (PR) for a child or from a court before taking the child abroad.
Who has parental responsibility?
You automatically have parental responsibility if you’re the child’s mother, but you still need the permission of anyone else with parental responsibility before you take the child abroad.
A father usually has parental responsibility if he’s either:
married to the child’s mother
listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in)
You can take a child abroad for 28 days without getting permission if a child arrangement order (Court Order) says the child must live with you, unless a court order says you can’t.
What evidence do I need to show the other parent consents?
A letter from the person with parental responsibility for the child is usually enough to show you’ve got permission to take them abroad.
You might be asked for the letter at a UK or foreign border, or if there’s a dispute about taking a child abroad. The letter should include the other person’s contact details and details about the trip.
It also helps if you have:
- Evidence of your relationship with the child, e.g. a birth or adoption certificate.
- A divorce or marriage certificate, if you are a single parent, but your family name is different from the child’s.
What happens if the other person with parental responsibility does not provide their consent?
- You will need to apply to a court for permission to take a child abroad if you haven’t got permission from the other people with parental responsibility.
- You must provide details of the trip, e.g. the date of departure, when and how you’re returning, and contact details of people with parental responsibility staying in the UK.
- Furthermore, you must provide additional information if you’re taking the child abroad for a longer trip, e.g. what education the child will get while they’re abroad.
We understand that tensions can rise and Christmas can be a stressful time for some families. The earlier the conversations are had surrounding parental responsibilities and planning for your own Christmas or however wish you’re to spend the holidays, the more equipped you will be to navigate the holidays better.
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Helen works with clients to ensure that they are sensitively guided through the complex area of family and relationship breakdown.
Helen has over twenty years’ experience in advising clients in relation to family law issues. Helen has particular expertise in representing clients with substantial wealth and has many cases involving family businesses, trusts and farms. Helen also advises parents in complex children cases including international relocation.
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Our team of children’s law solicitors is experienced in all aspects of children’s law and family law and the wide range of issues that modern families can face. No two situations are the same and we understand the sensitivities and care often needed to help you navigate delicate and complex situations.
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