Why Christmas is difficult for separated families [Updated for Christmas 2019]

Children at Christmas

An updated article for Christmas 2019 to include the possible impact of the General Election 2019 and an early Brexit in 2020.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. So if you haven't done so already, you need to sort out your child arrangements for the Christmas holidays 2019, pronto.

As a separated or divorced parent, it's important to agree who looks after the children in advance, to give everyone involved time to prepare. Child arrangements over any holiday period takes careful planning and a fair degree of cooperation. The Christmas holidays come with an extra layer of emotional pressure, from where the children will be on Christmas Day itself, to issues over shared costs.

Christmas holidays are longer this year

Due to the way Christmas dates fall in 2019, with Christmas Day on a Wednesday, there is a clear two-week Christmas holiday period when many businesses will shut their doors. We expect many to follow the state school closure dates and shut on Friday 20th December 2019 for two weeks until Monday 6th January 2020. However, in the current climate, not every business may wish to close for as long, and equally, not every working parent will be able to take all this time off. That's why making child arrangements as early as possible will help everyone plan for a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday period.

The state school term dates vary too between our own ‘home’ area of Reading, and our neighbouring counties:

  • Reading: autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • West Berkshire: autumn terms ends Thursday 19th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • Hampshire: autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • Surrey:  autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020

Private schools tend to take a further week, either before or after Christmas. These differences in school term dates are another reason to make arrangements now, especially if you live in a different school district to your children.

Christmas child arrangement letters and agreements

Making child arrangements yourself can involve endless phone calls and diary negotiations which can be awkward, emotional and lead to potential misunderstanding. A child arrangement letter and agreement can often be the most effective way to organise your children, your ex and yourself over the Christmas 2019 holidays.

A professional, impartial letter from us can help set out exactly what you have already agreed - or want to agree. It is set out in clear terms that both parties can understand and (more often that not) agree to after just one letter. A Christmas child arrangements saves you time, stress and worry, leaving you both more time to enjoy the season with your kids.


Potential Christmas issues for separated parents

Whether you’re the resident parent or not, Christmas is a time when you may feel the emotional pressure of being a separated parent the most. Here’s our list of main issues past clients have experienced, and some suggestions of how to overcome these.

• I want the kids on Christmas Day

This is probably the top issue - which parent gets the children on Christmas Day itself. The conflict is often between the parent with custody stating that the children want to be ‘at home’, and the absent parent wanting to share the special day with their children at their home.

The fairest answer is, of course, that the children stay with one parent in the morning and one in the afternoon, so both see them on the day itself. However, this isn’t always practical in terms of geography, or compatible with celebrations involving extended family, including grandparents.

Some parents resolve the issue by alternating year to year, or holding a second Christmas Day for the children, complete with extended family. It’s a case of planning out what works for you and your family, and preferably agreeing it in writing well before the end of term.

• I want them to open their presents on Christmas Day

Again, this is such an emotive issue. Do children get all their presents on the day, or can the pleasure of receiving gifts be split between two days? If the joy of presents is as much in the giving as in the receiving, then having gifts presented by the absent parent in person, for example, is probably as important as the gift itself.

• I don’t have the same income as my ex

This can cause all sorts of stress and upset, and not just at Christmas. The pressure felt by the lower-earning parent can be reflected in them trying to ‘keep up’. The costs of presents, food, outings and other expenses can involve them taking on more financial burden/debt than they can afford. Furthermore, many parents raise the issue of using gifts as an incitement or to influence a child.

Here too, a level of cooperation can keep that to a minimum. A child arrangement letter can include as many details as you wish, such as a suggested spend limit on presents that both parents can afford. Even better is that the parties equally contribute if they can to the major present, to demonstrate positive co-parenting and avoid upstaging on Christmas Day.

• Their grandparents want to see them over Christmas

Christmas is a time when extended family members will often take the extra effort to come together and celebrate. Research has proved the importance of children knowing and being involved with extended family for their social and mental wellbeing and their sense of identity.

Planning such events in advance, and scheduling child arrangements around them will ensure that children won’t miss out on these enjoyable family gatherings. This is where it’s important that parents set aside their own personal feelings about ex in-laws and focus on the needs of the child.

• Christmas skiing or foreign holidays

If you are divorced or separated, planning a family foreign holiday at Christmas does involve one crucial item of paperwork.

If you intend to go abroad with your children at any time of year, you must get permission from your ex. If you take children abroad without the permission of anyone else with parental responsibility, this is classed as child abduction and is a criminal offence. You should always get a permission letter from the person with parental responsibility and carry with you through all border controls ideally, or at least have an email trail.

If you are the resident parent, you may be concerned about this. As the Resolution website explains:

“Common fears include concerns about whether your ex will come back or not, whether your child will be safe and what happens if something goes wrong. Perhaps you don’t think your ex is responsible enough to take your child away, or your child is old enough to go away without you.”

A child arrangement letter or agreement can help define exactly the arrangements for when children are away. Don't leave this to the last minute before you travel. Arrange it well in advance to avoid letters getting delayed by the Christmas break.


Flying solo

As the world becomes more global, many parents are based abroad for work purposes. A common issue now emerging is whether a child should be allowed to travel as an Unaccompanied Minor with airlines.

As our Director Rita Gupta explains:

“The issue of unaccompanied minors, continues to polarise view between parents. Often it is simply not practical from a costs and time perspective for one parent to fly to another country and collect a child, particularly at peak times such as Christmas when air fares are at their highest. In such cases often one parent will suggest using the unaccompanied minor airline service. If this is accepted by the other parent, then there should be a letter or agreement in place with a clear set of obligations on both parents to ensure that a child travels safely and without any distress caused by lack of clarity of arrangements or similarly one parent being difficult.”

As with all arrangements, a child-centred approach needs to be adopted at all times. Sometimes one parent needs to accept that for some parents ,this is simply too much of a worry. In this case, a compromise is necessary such as sharing the travel arrangements or the costs of airfare tickets.


Travel to the EU after 31 January 2020

Depending on the outcome of the General Election on Thursday 12 December 2019, Brexit may or may not happen on 31st January 2020. If it does, and depending on the deal agreed or not, it may impact on travel to the EU. You may need to renew your or your child's passport earlier than expected, for example. For the latest details, see the "Visit Europe after Brexit" webpage at https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-brexit. Whatever the outcome, you will still need a permission letter.


Need help with Christmas child arrangements?

Call us to discuss our Christmas child arrangement letters or agreement, a way to a more stress-free holiday and a happier New Year!