At this time of year, most people’s thoughts are towards preparations for Christmas. This is the first complete year not blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and families have been enjoying holidays abroad again alongside larger family gatherings. This year will be a time which many will be looking forward to.
For newly separating and divorcing parents, however, this can be a particularly difficult time. For the first time, perhaps, parents and children are having to become accustomed to not spending Christmas Day together.
Some families can spend the day together even if they have separated but for many that is simply not possible. Whilst some parents do split Christmas Day with the children moving between homes this is not always advisable or practical.
As specialist family solicitors we do not always focus entirely on the legal position for families, instead often finding ourselves assisting parents to come to practical and sensible arrangements. Where Christmas is concerned, we recommend to clients that they try to reach an agreement well before the Christmas holidays.
Any application which needs to be considered by the court needs to be made several weeks in advance. Since the pandemic there are well-publicised delays in the court system, and it is unlikely that any argument about arrangements for Christmas will be seen as an emergency or urgent matter. So, if an application were to be made to the court now it may not be dealt with.
This means that, more than ever, parents need to come to an agreement if possible. One option for parents is to attend mediation and see whether an agreement can be reached in that forum. If that is not possible then parents need to be pragmatic.
In 2022 we are fortunate in that the Christmas weekend lasts four days from Saturday 24 December until Tuesday 27 December. Most parents, save for those working in public services or the hospitality industry, will be able to take this time off work. It should be possible for this four day holiday to be shared in the absence of any safeguarding or welfare concerns.
Where matters are decided by the court it is often the case that Christmas days are alternated between the parents each year. Understandably, when children are young parents want to enjoy the excitement of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with their children. Often this is where there is a difficulty in reaching agreement.
In these situations, I remind parents that if their children are young enough to still believe in Father Christmas, then their children know he is magic. In addition to being magic, Father Christmas can control time and can travel the whole of the globe within 24 hours in order to deliver Christmas presents on Christmas Eve.
I ask my clients to consider that Father Christmas can undoubtedly deliver presents on Boxing Day or any other day over the Christmas period. He can also deliver presents to more than one address if the children are spending time in two homes.
Older children will undoubtedly enjoy the prospect of two Christmas Days and two lots of presents!