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Arrangements for parental access to children over Christmas holidays

There is nothing like Christmas for bringing out the best (and worst) in everyone. Toby Hales, Head of Family Law at Hodge Jones & Allen, discuss issues relating to child access over the Christmas holidays.

From buying too many bottles of bubbly to battles over box sets, toy shops, supermarkets and family lawyers will all say that at Christmas time, business is booming.

Yes that’s right; family lawyers.

Unfortunately, the reality for separated families is that often, opinions on what constitutes the “best” for the children, differ. Christmas is understandably a time of heightened sensitivity, and that can easily translate into conflict over the arrangements for children: where do they wake up on Christmas morning? Where do they have lunch? One turkey or two? Is it fair to trade Christmas for New Year? Where do the grandparents fit in?

Every year, Courts are plagued with emergency hearings for families who cannot resolve their Christmas arrangements. They are there to assist, but rarely does anything good come out of these disputes, and often the children themselves become – inevitably – aware of the discord and conflict around them. For these young people, childhood Christmas memories will remain more bitter than sweet.

How can this be avoided?

A bit of sensitivity, a dash of flexibility, a few drops of common sense and a generous helping of forethought is the best recipe for a happy Christmas dinner.

First, it is important to recognise that the issue exists, and may well be very raw for one or both parents after separation. So it is better to pre-empt it than to live in denial. Secondly, everyone involved needs to understand that circumstances change: what is right for a child of 5 is unlikely to remain so for 10 years. And families change: new partners and new children often arrive to complicate the picture, divide loyalties and create new challenges. No-one should ever be afraid to revisit arrangements that no longer fit the bill.

There are a number of ways in which childcare plans can be agreed in good time. Family mediators can assist in helping both parents come to an understanding of the reality of parenting after parting, and help to create lines of communication that avoid further distress and finger-pointing.

But we all recognise that sitting in a room with your ex may not be everyone’s cup of mulled wine, especially at a time of supposed good cheer. A specialist Family solicitor therefore, can help you think through a parenting plan and facilitate negotiations in a way that is not combative but seeks to put the children’s needs first.

So whilst kissing the ex under the mistletoe is probably not on the cards, a respectful handshake during handovers, shouldn’t be impossible.

If you are concerned about issues relating to access of your children contact Toby Hales for an informal discussion on 020 7874 8300 or email