Residential property
19 Nov 2019 News

Our Tips for Co-Parenting at Christmas

Parents familiar with the late December mission to procure the sold out toy of the year know now is the time to act on Christmas wish lists. For separated parents, it’s also time to broach the difficult question of how their child will spend the holidays.

Christmas contact arrangements are often a source of conflict, especially in the first year of separation when emotions are high and life is unsettled. Even if there is an agreement or Court order on childcare arrangements in place, it may not address what is to happen over the festive period. Here are our top five tips for navigating the holidays between two homes.

1. Act early

Initiating the discussion early gives you ample time to work through emotion and negotiate an arrangement either directly, between lawyers or with the assistance of a mediator. It also allows you to sound out whether you will need the Court to intervene. A Court application takes some time to organise and comes with an associated cost and level of stress.  Sadly many parents are left with no option but to make an emergency application on the eve of the holidays to secure contact, a situation that can be avoided with early advice and intervention.

Early resolution also means you can tell the child how they will spend Christmas well in advance and relieve any anxiety they might be feeling in the lead up. You want the child to look forward to Christmas, not to equate it with arguments between adults.

2. Be willing to compromise

More often than not, both parents want to spend the lion’s share of Christmas day with the child.  There is no magic formula for resolving that conundrum and the law is not concerned about what is ‘fair’ or ‘equal’ for the adults.  The focus is on what is in the best interests of the child. This broadly describes a child’s wellbeing and is determined by a range of factors, including their age, level of maturity, experiences, relationships and specific care requirements. Older children might be asked for their views but should not feel any pressure to choose between one parent or the other. Parents should consider what best meets practical and emotional needs of the child and be prepared to make concessions for their benefit. It is not uncommon for parents to have different notions of what that is and this often results in discussions reaching an impasse. Taking legal advice on the type of arrangement a Court would endorse can help overcome that.

3. Be practical

Consider and agree the mechanics of the proposed arrangement. Who should be responsible for drop-off and collection? Where and when that take should take place? Do the arrangements allow for quality time between the child and any step-siblings, friends or extended family? Are there any special engagements the child would like to attend? Does dividing Christmas day itself serve the child’s best interests if it involves a lot of travel between two homes? Is it more appropriate for one parent to have the child on Christmas Day, and the other parent to have them on Boxing Day? Should telephone or Facetime calls be facilitated between the child and the other parent while they are away?

4. Be reliable

Be on time and abide by any specific arrangements put in place. This helps engender trust between parents and provides stability and consistency for the child. How you act now will set the tone for future dealings with the other parent.

5. Think long term

Letting go of old traditions is hard and so resistance towards “giving up” Christmas Day is to be expected. A forward looking approach can alleviate that.  One common solution is to alternate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between the two parents each year.  Another is to divide the child’s school holidays in half and alternate them each year, so the first half (including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) is spent with one parent and Boxing Day through to New Year’s Eve with the other. Finding an agreement that works in perpetuity can help separated families feel they have established a ‘new normal’. That said, it is worth noting that no agreement or court order relating to childcare arrangements is never set in stone. If the arrangement put in place this year doesn’t operate in the child’s best interests, it is possible to make alternative arrangements next year irrespective of whose turn it is (subject, of course, to the other parent or the Court taking the same view).

If you would like to speak to someone in our Family Law team about any of the issues raised above or about anything else, please contact Ashley McCann on 0131 221 6915 or email

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