Who gets the kids this Christmas?

Arguing over who will get the kids for Christmas is not exactly in the festive spirit, but sadly this is exactly what happens in many divorced or separated families every year.

Christmas is an emotionally-charged time, and as a result is often stressful for divorced and separated families – not least with the big decision to make over who spend Christmas day with your children.

While the resident parent may feel he or she deserves to spend time with the children, the non-resident parent often feels resentful, left out and lonely – potentially causing stress for the children and extended families.

Tips for a happy Christmas – whatever happens

So how can you avoid the annual festive fallout over who gets the kids? And if it’s not you, what can you do to make the season just as special?

Ann Corrigan, founder of Clarity Family Law in Buckinghamshire, and a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer, shares her tips for avoiding conflict and misery during this time.

Avoid the courts

Every year angry couples try to involve the courts to sort out the Christmas issue for them – but this should be an absolute last resort. Not only will the court not hear such cases before the couple has tried to resolve it through mediation, but it is likely to cause even more hurt and anger to your loved ones.

Go for mediation

If you and your ex can’t agree, consider involving an independent mediator to help you come to an informal and fair arrangement. For example, even if you are the resident parent, you may consider allowing the children to see their other parent for a few hours on the day to exchange presents.

Take a long-term view

A mediator will also help you draw up a balanced and fair long-term plan (although you could of course do this yourselves) for holidays and special events or days. If everyone, including the children, knows in advance what happens that day, they’ve got time to get used to it or plan around it.

Put the children first

Christmas is a special time, particularly for young children and the last thing they need is to be caught in the crossfire of parents arguing. Make them your priority this festive season. That doesn’t mean you should ignore yourself – but find other ways of looking after yourself.

Be practical

Try to remove the emotion from the situation and look at things calmly. We’re only talking about one day or a few days – there will be other Christmases and festive days.

Fake it

If you can’t see your children on Christmas day, consider organising a fake Christmas with them on another day. They’ll love the idea of having two Christmases.

Don’t overdo presents

Divorced parents often try to outdo each other when it comes to presents – don’t be tempted to do this. It might seem like a good idea short term, but in the long run you’ll do more harm than good. Let the children compile a list and agree between you (or with the help of a mediator) who will buy which presents. (The website babygadgetlab can help you with gift ideas.)

Reach out to others

If you’re not with your children on Christmas, don’t be alone. Invite other people in a similar position around or spend a day with a friend. Whatever you do, be kind to yourself.

Enjoy your children

Don’t spend the entire time sulking because of what could have been. Make the most of the time you do have with them.

Ann Corrigan is founder of Clarity Family Law Solicitors, a specialist family law firm in Buckinghamshire, and a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer.

Photo by erin walker