Christmas Contact Arrangements: What should the arrangements be for your children when you separate?

When you separate, it is important to discuss plans for Christmas early with your ex-partner, in terms of where your children are going to spend Christmas Day and the festive period.

If you can’t resolve Christmas contact arrangements for your children together, generally the next step is to see if a mediator can help you reach an agreement. If all else fails, an application to the Court can be made. The Courts will not view resolving which parent your children are to spend Christmas Day with as an urgent issue, so bear in mind that you cannot queue jump the Court list if you have left things until the last minute.

Disagreements between parents about Christmas Day and the festive period are resolved by the Court by taking into consideration the welfare checklist set out in the Children Act 1989.  Court proceedings are entirely centred around what the Court believes is best for your children – and not what is best for you and your ex-partner in terms of convenience/plans.

The following bullet points give some examples of general principles that have arisen from cases Emsleys’ Family Law team has dealt with:

  • If you have very young children who believe in Father Christmas, a Court will often give guidance that your children should wake up in the house that they usually live in on Christmas Day morning and open their presents in the family home. This is the house they believe Father Christmas will visit.
  • If you have older children, arrangements are often made for alternate Christmas and sometimes New Year – but it is important to remember that the children may have some anxiety for the parent left alone. Skype/FaceTime may be useful.
  • A Court is highly unlikely to impose that separated parents spend time with each other on Christmas Day; for example, one parent comes back to the family home to watch the children open their presents and to spend time together as a family. This doesn’t mean that it’s an arrangement that parents cannot and do not make between themselves; but rushing off to Court is unlikely to result in this type of arrangement being imposed as a Court Order.
  • Courts generally don’t like arrangements whereby children are going to be in the car for lengthy periods on Christmas Day; for example, if you live three hours away from one another. This logistical problem is more likely to be solved by a Court suggesting that Christmas is alternated for older children, or that younger children who still believe in Father Christmas spend time with the other parent on Boxing Day.
  • If both parents still live quite close to one another and have family traditions which involve extended family –  for example, historically you took it in turns to go to one another’s parents for lunch – the Court may take this into account. This may then result in an Order for alternating Christmas Day, or with younger children, dividing up the day to spend Christmas lunch with the other grandparents on an alternate yearly basis.

Children’s needs and beliefs change as they get older and therefore what you agree at the outset when you separate may change. Whilst it is important to have a framework, it is equally important to be able to demonstrate some flexibility. 

If you require any further information or advice, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Family Law team on 0113 201 4902 or

Gabbie  Clasper

Written by

Gabbie Clasper

Head of Family Law

Gabbie has over 20 years’ experience in family law. She has expert knowledge in complex issues including financial aspects following divorce; pre and post-nuptial agreements; cases with an international element; and civil partnerships. Gabbie is regularly instructed by clients based across the country and abroad. She...

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