Living apart? How to make sure your children have a Merry Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner. It seems to come earlier every year which, though slightly irritating, can actually be beneficial for early planning. In circumstances where a family does not live together it is always a significant advantage to try and work out your arrangements in good time before the festive period begins.

For many people Christmas is a time for celebrations with close and extended family. Children are often at the forefront of those celebrations and so it is important to keep their best interests at heart. Every family is different and so it is a challenge for a family lawyer to advise what exactly each and every family should do over Christmas. There are however some common themes to identify when thinking about how the period should be structured in terms of who is spending time with the children, where and when, such as:

  • Are there any other siblings (half-brothers or sisters)?
  • What are the extended family plans (grandmas and granddads, aunts and uncles etc.)?
  • How far apart is each family household?
  • What has happened in previous years? What are the children used to?
  • Do you attend church or any other religious ceremony on certain days of Christmas (such as midnight mass or Christmas day service)?

In my experience, many families often alternate Christmas Day and Boxing Day so that the children will spend Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other parent, then alternate those plans for the following year.

If families live quite close together, then it may also be possible to have the children wake up and celebrate in one house and then go to the other parent house perhaps after Christmas lunch.

You might also try and put your differences aside and still have Christmas together. The joy and happiness of the children could perhaps allow you to forget about any bad blood and even help you to move forward for the future. If you feel uneasy about spending time together then you could invite close or extended family and maybe meet in a neutral place for lunch.

There are endless possibilities and it may also depend on the preferences of the individual children.

My main advice would be to try and ensure that you reach a clear agreement early on, so that there is no confusion and any disagreements do not spill over into the celebrations on the day, or indeed the week. It might be a good idea to draw up a calendar together to assist in the transportation of the children and the overall planning.

Lastly, don forget to try and discuss presents! There will always be a most wanted present on your child Santa letter, so try and avoid any duplication!

It is important to recognise the spirit of goodwill. If you really do find it difficult to communicate with each other then mediation with an independent family mediator might help you to discuss matters in advance of the festive season in an open and non-confrontational way.

For further advice please call our Family Law team on 0113 201 4900 or email

This article originally appeared in the Families magazine.

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