Advice for separated parents planning their first Christmas apart

By Lenore Rice

The holiday season can take a lot of careful planning at the best of times - getting the right gifts, dedicating equal time around two families in the case of couples, not to mention driving arrangements to accommodate office parties and other impromptu visits with family and friends. But every Christmas there are hundreds of parents in Northern Ireland who are planning their first holidays since a divorce or separation.

The old adage is that Christmas is all about the children and it is useful for newly separated couples to bear that in mind when trying to agree the arrangements over the holiday period. Couples who have had a particularly acrimonious split earlier in the year might still find it hard to sit down and have a productive conversation, but it is imperative to do so in advance of the first Christmas the family will spend after a divorce or separation. This is the opportunity for couples to set a precedent for future Christmas's and other national holidays.

Here are some points which parents might want to arrange in advance so they do not find themselves trying to sort it out on Christmas Eve:

1) Christmas cards and presents

The resident parent should make every effort to accommodate the other parent so that they can visit the child to pass on their card and gift, even if they do not ordinarily have time with the child on those days. Avoid the very common trap of seeing the Christmas gifts as a competition to see who can give the biggest and most expensive presents. You should ideally co-ordinate your gifts if possible.

2) Division of time between parents

Different couples will have different arrangements in respect of contact for the non-resident parent. There is no automatic entitlement for extra time with the children over the holiday period, but starting with the viewpoint of trying to make it as an enjoyable Christmas as possible, most couples will try to arrange a balance of some kind - e.g. Christmas Day with the resident parent, and Boxing Day with the other.

Parents should also use traditional and modern technology such as video chatting to help children cope with the absence of one of the parents at key moments in the holiday period.

3) Don't forget the grandparents

It is often said that after the children, it is grandparents who suffer the worst during a divorce. The grandparents on the side of the parent who does not have residency may suddenly go from seeing their grandchildren every week to just a few times in the year. The non-resident parent might just have hours of contact during the week, which depending on where everyone lives, might make it very difficult for the grandparents to spend quality time. Where possible, try to accommodate both sides of the family and make particular allowances over the holiday season.

If you are unable to have a calm and reasoned conversation with your ex-partner in order to make arrangements, you may want to involve an intermediary and maybe get some legal advice. This of course, should always be a last resort.

To speak to one of the family law and divorce experts at Wilson Nesbitt solicitors call 0800 840 1363.