Divorce survey reveals challenges of trying to play Santa at Christmas


  • 42% of newly separated parents cannot remain on speaking terms to make arrangements
  • Dads feel greater need to compete for kids’ affections than mums after divorce or separation
  • 30% worry about the influence of new boyfriend/girlfriend
  • 11% of children have ‘2 Christmas days’
  • 23% of divorced and separated parents spent Christmas together
  • 36% have sought legal advice to help them find a solution
  • Only 13% of parents ask their children what they would like to do, but 66% say their children’s ‘opinions are an important factor’

A survey by national law firm Simpson Millar has revealed the complexities facing divorced and separated parents at Christmas time.

We surveyed 1000 divorced and separate parents to find out what they do as christmas approaches The Simpson Millar Family Law Christmas Survey 2014 uncovers the most significant challenges faced by 1000 parents in the lead up to the Festive Season, showing that mums and dads frequently struggle to find common ground while worrying about issues such as whether their ex partners are spoiling the children to win affection, or if new family members are having a bad influence.

Emma Pearmaine, Head of Family Law at Simpson Millar LLP, explains: “We looked at the general approach divorced and separated parents take to Christmas; how do they organise who gets the children? Do they plan ahead to avoid arguments and do custody arrangements have an influence on how the holiday season is planned out."

Getting it together for Christmas?

“With more than a quarter (28%) admitting they are ‘cutting it fine’ or ‘leaving it until the last minute’ to make arrangements for Christmas, the UK’s divorced and separated parents face some big hurdles to keep the peace between themselves and ensure they get to spend valuable time with their children at Christmas,” says Emma.

Who gets to play santa?

Divorced and separated parents revealed that the most common thing they argue about at Christmas is the problem of their ex ‘spoiling’ the children. 37% of mums and dads across the UK cited this as the likeliest source of tension, however there were numerous other potential flashpoints.

“Roughly equal on the list with the issue of spoiling the kids was the problem of failure to agree ‘ground rules’ with 36% citing this as a disruptive issue,” adds Emma, “however concerns over step-siblings or step-parents also scored highly, with 30% saying this tended to be a problem.”

Are parents really listening to their children?

The survey also discovered an interesting dichotomy in how divorced and separated parents consider their children’s wishes at Christmas. “This was a fascinating revelation, in that only 13% admitted to asking their children what they wanted to do at Christmas, but two thirds (66%) said their children’s ‘opinions are an important factor’. We often find when warring parents come to Simpson Millar for advice, they are adamant they are thinking only of their children, but in my experience, children often don’t mind which parent they are with on 25 December. I try to encourage parents to make it a bonus that their children get to enjoy two different Christmas Days – sadly this doesn’t happen often.”

Dads feel need to compete

The survey provides a number of unique insights into the challenges faced by parents, notably the differences between fathers and mothers. We found that significantly more dads (36%) than mums (27%) felt the need to ‘compete for their children’s affections’.

A forgiving bunch

A potential silver lining can be found in that fact that the UK’s mums and dads can be a pretty forgiving bunch. “It may surprise you to learn that almost a quarter (23%) of divorced and separated parents actually spend their Christmas Day together as a family, with more than a third (35%) of parents in the East Midlands and 32% of Londoners joining in festivities on 25th December alongside their ex.

Editors’ notes

A full copy of the survey including graphics and a wide range of data including regional and gender variations is available on the Simpson Millar web site or on request. Interviews, graphics and a case study are also available on request via RTS Media.


A survey sample of 1000 divorced and separated parents from across the UK completed our online survey during the week beginning 1st December 2014.

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