Child arrangements at Christmas

It's clear that navigating child arrangements during the Christmas period can be challenging for separated parents, and your emphasis on prioritising the best interests of the children is crucial. J&P Solicitor Sarah Rose, from our Family team, offers some tips and suggestions for parents facing this situation.

For separated parents, it can be difficult to agree child arrangements for the Christmas period and many feel that they do not want to miss out on the special and magical memories that are created for their children at this time of year. I am often asked if there is a “right” way to share or divide the Christmas period, but this will very much depend on each family’s circumstances and ultimately what is in the best interests of their children. 

If this is the first Christmas since you have separated, your children will likely be used to spending Christmas with both parents and the transition to spending this time of year with each parent separately will likely be very difficult. It is therefore important to focus on your children and think about how they will feel having to spend this time apart and how can you best ensure that your children will be able to spend quality time with both of you. 

In order to assist you with trying to navigate your way through discussions for arrangements over Christmas, we have set out some pointers and tips for you to think about.  

Preparation and Planning 

I am sure you have all heard of the quote by Benjamin Franklin, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, and this very much applies to child arrangements. It is important that both parents are able to agree Christmas arrangements as early as possible to avoid the last-minute rush and conflict on top of the already building Christmas stress to get presents bought, wrapped and under the tree for the big day. 

If this is your first Christmas since you separated, think about how you can more easily transition the children into spending Christmas with you separately. If you have been separated for some time, perhaps think about what went well with arrangements last year and do you need to change anything this year. It is important to remember that as children get older, their needs can change and what worked when they were younger may not work as they get older. 

As we have already highlighted there is not a “right way” for sharing Christmas and it is important to consider your child’s age, location of both parents, work patterns, etc. 


We would suggest that you try and have discussions with the other parent away from the children. You may have differing ideas of how you would like to share time with the children, and it is important to listen to each other, consider where the other person is coming from and their reasoning, remain open, be willing to compromise and be flexible. If your children are old enough ask them what they would like to do and how they would like to spend Christmas. It is not advisable to let them make the decision as this is placing too much pressure on them, but it is important to take into consideration their views. 

Remember the main focus and primary consideration should be what is best for your children. 

Remain Positive

Christmas after all “is the most wonderful time of the year”, and it is important to keep things positive. It is understandable that if you have recently separated or divorced, staying positive can be difficult and it is very easy to focus on the negatives and concerns that you feel are already facing you in the new year to come. This year like last year, many will still be feeling the pinch from the ongoing cost of living crisis, but it is important to try and stay positive and keep the Christmas spirit alive. 

Express to the children how loved they are and that they are so lucky that so many people/family members want to celebrate Christmas with them, that they will have two Christmas trees, two Christmas dinners, two sets of presents, etc. 

Maintain the Arrangement

Once you have reached an agreement, we would suggest that you put this in writing. This can be set out in an informal parenting plan agreed between you, in a Parenting Plan/Agreement drawn up by a solicitor, or in the form of a Child Arrangements Order. 

Now that you have an agreement, maintain that agreement and do not seek to make any changes at the last minute unless this is outside of your control, an emergency arises, etc. It is important that once your arrangement is agreed and this is communicated with the children that you stick to it, this provides stability for your children and any last-minute changes may cause them upset, disruption or confusion. 

Suggestions for how to share Christmas

As we have already identified there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to share the Christmas period but in order to assist you, here are a few ways that you can consider sharing Christmas: 

1. Spend Christmas together. Understandably this will not work for all parents but on occasion some parents will spend Christmas morning/Christmas Day together so they can both see the children open their presents. This may mean one parent has the children Christmas Eve, they share Christmas Day, and the other has Boxing Day. 

2. One parent to have the children Christmas Eve until midday on Christmas Day and the other to have the children from midday Christmas Day and Boxing Day. 

3. If you do not live close to each other, consider alternating Christmas so this means celebrating Christmas with one parent one year and the next year this is alternated so the children celebrate with the other parent.  

4. Splitting the Christmas holidays equally. As most schools will shut down for 2 weeks over Christmas, each parent can spend a week with the children. This will mean the children will spend Christmas with one parent and New Year with the other, and typically this is alternated the next year. 

If you cannot agree arrangements

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree arrangements between you, you may wish to consider mediation. Sometimes it requires an impartial third party to sit down with you both and explore the issues you are having that leads to you being able to reach an agreement. 

If mediation is not appropriate or you are still unable to agree, we suggest that you seek specialist advice from a Family Solicitor. We can discuss the issues you are having, where the dispute is stemming from and attempt to assist you with communicating this with the other parent and outlining your position to try and reach an agreement. 

As a last resort, you have the option of making an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order to determine the time the children should spend with each parent. This will then provide both parties with a legally binding Court Order that provides security and certainty of the arrangements to be followed. However, it is important to be aware that if matters are left to late, an application made in December is unlikely to be dealt with before Christmas given the Court will not consider the matter of Christmas arrangements to be an urgent matter that takes priority. 

Written by: Sarah Rose (Solicitor) 

Please contact our family department should you wish to discuss any of the above with one of our specialists in the team, on 020 8290 0333 or email to make an appointment.

For further information on our Family Law services, click here.

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