Christmas Arrangements for Separated Parents

Posted on: 7 mins read
Last updated:
Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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Christmas should be a time to celebrate with family, friends and loved ones – especially after a few years of disruptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some, this isn’t as easy as it might seem. Separated parents will have to come to an agreement on arrangements to see their children which is suitable for everyone and is in the best interests of the children.  If you’re currently navigating arrangements to see your children,  our specialist Family Law Solicitors have got some top tips to make sure that everyone can have a happy Christmas this year.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Planning ahead can avoid any last-minute disagreements, so sitting down with your former partner at a convenient time should allow you both to put forward your proposals for contact over the Christmas period in advance. This will give both you and your children clarity about what the arrangements are for this year. 

This process can be difficult, especially if the separation with your partner was not amicable or if there are any contentious issues between the two of you that haven’t quite been fully resolved yet. Due to this, we would recommend writing everything out, including what you would like in an ideal world, what you would realistically settle for and what you would be willing to compromise on. Ultimately, it is likely that some compromises will need to be made so be prepared for this so that you aren’t caught off guard by this.  By writing out want you want before the meeting, you can decide what’s important to you and condense the key points and issues down easily. It can also help you to decide what you actually want and have some clarity for yourself before the meeting. The more flexible you are the more likely you are to reach an agreement that suits everyone involved.


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What’s Best For The Children?

The main focus when making any arrangements should always be your children and how to make the transition between each parent over the Christmas period – this is especially important if this is your first year being separated from your former partner. 

If it is your first time living as separated parents over the festive period, remember that your children will be used opening their presents on Christmas Day with both parents. As such, it is important to think about how they will feel if they don’t get to spend quality time with both parents. If this is something that you experienced during your own childhood, try to think back to remember how you felt about it and if there are any tips from your own parents about how to handle things or possibly even things that you would change to make it a more positive experience for your children.

You should always try to speak to your children positively about Christmas to encourage them not to be disheartened or upset about the prospect of celebrating with their parents individually rather than together like they have before. You could point out the positives of this arrangement to them – for example, having two , Christmas Trees, two Christmas Dinners and two sets of presents. 

Even if this isn’t your first year celebrating Christmas without your former partner, you should still try to encourage your children to think about the festive period in a positive way. It can be easy to feel downbeat about the holidays if they hear their friends or class mates talk about their upcoming Christmas celebrations with both of their parents together, for example. Additionally, it might not be something that they have quite gotten used to yet – after all, even if you have been separated for nearly two years, that’s still only one festive period that your children will have experienced with separated parents.

Once a fixed plan has been agreed, it’s important to try and share this with your children straight away or as soon as possible so that they know what the plan is. This will give them certainty and stability which means that they can start imagining what Christmas will be like this year in their heads and will allow them to get used to the proposed arrangements.

When communicating the plans to your children, you should try not to exaggerate any of the plans or make any promises that you can’t keep. This will only lead to disappointment later down the line – with the potential for arguments, tantrums and tears on Christmas Day. If you can, it may be a good idea to write down the plan with your former partner once it has been agreed so that you both have a written agreed upon copy of the plan to speak to your children about. This should hopefully avoid any confusion or miscommunication later down the line.

Be Fair And Reasonable In Negotiations

A lot of people who co-parent their children with their former partner typically agree that one parent will have the children on Christmas Eve until lunchtime on Christmas Day and then the other parent will have the children for the rest of Christmas Day until Boxing Day. This arrangement is usually alternated each year which means that each parent will experience either Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning with the children every couple of years. As these are points which can be quite exciting to a child, it’s nice for both parents to be able to experience both of these over the years so that nobody misses out on a treasured childhood moment with their children.

Other couples agree that one parent will the children on Christmas Eve whilst the other will have them on Christmas Day and alternative each year. Again, this means that the joys of both of these days can be shared between you and your former partner over the years, meaning that nobody misses out in the long run.

There are many different personal circumstances that may need considering. This can include things such as your locations, the age of the children and how amicable you are with your former partner. Despite this, it is still important to listen to your former partner’s proposals and try to be as fair and reasonable as possible when responding to it.

When putting forward your own proposal, you should consider whether you will be happy with it next year when you alternate or whether you will still be happy with it as your children grow older. If not, you might want to think again about what is reasonable and think of the future as well as the present.

Stick To The Arrangement

Once an agreement has been made, stick to it without making any last-minute changes if you can. Your children and your former-partner will be looking forward to seeing each other so any last-minute changes will no doubt cause upset, uncertainty and disruption for everyone. It is vital that there is a fixed and consistent pattern of contact in place so that everybody knows where they are and when.

This is something that should be emphasised to your former partner as well. You don’t need to necessarily ‘lay down the law’ as such but you could kindly remind them that last minute changes should be avoided as much as possible for the sake of your children. Highlight to them how much your children are looking forward to and depending on the plan that you’ve both agreed on, so they understand the importance of sticking to the arrangements you’ve both agreed on.


Seek Advice Early If Needed

Christmas is a busy time of year and Christmas contact is usually a difficult topic. Due to this, you may be avoiding dealing with them but it’s important to not ignore the issue and to address Christmas contact as soon as possible to avoid any disagreements and general upset.

If you can’t have discussions with your former partner directly, you could ask someone else to speak to them for you. If this doesn’t work or if you want to advice about what a fair and reasonable proposal is, feel free to contact a Family Solicitor to discuss your proposal with them. They can also step in and help you with your negotiations.

If you have tried to have direct discussions with your former partner about Christmas contact without success and if you have also used a Family Solicitor to help you to make these arrangements unsuccessfully, you could try to attend Mediation with your former partner to see if that could help you both to agree.

Court proceedings should only be issued as a last resort and only where all other options have been exhausted.

If you do need some advice, assistance or legal representation in relation to making Christmas arrangements with your former partner, you can contact our friendly expert team of Family Law Solicitors today on 0808 239 3465. Alternatively, you can request a call back.


Simpson Millar Solicitors. (n.d.). Family Law Solicitors. Retrieved from (Accessed December 11, 2023).

UK Government. (n.d.). Family Mediation Leaflet. Retrieved from (Accessed December 11, 2023).

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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