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Expert opinion: The joys of Christmas? Practical tips on helping reduce Christmas stress

Christmas can be a difficult time for separated parents. To mark Resolution’s Good Divorce Week, Frances Nash of Awdry Bailey & Douglas offers some tips to reduce the stress.

Around this time of year, families start making plans for Christmas and the excitement and anticipation starts to build. This can, however, be a difficult time if you are separated parents and so here are five practical tips to help you plan for Christmas.

1: Talk

We appreciate that communication between separated parents is not always easy. Use your normal method of communication to start the conversation about how best to share the festive holidays.

Avoid emotive language and explain why you believe your proposals are beneficial for your child e.g. it will provide an opportunity to see extended family or will reduce the amount of time travelling. If necessary, consider asking a mutually trusted member of the family or friend to help and support you during any face-to-face conversations.

You should also consider how you can compromise and/or accommodate the other parent’s proposals e.g. whether the arrangements work on an alternate year basis.

Be mindful that failure to compromise or engagement from either parent may result in a breakdown in communication and the need for legal assistance. More importantly, this also creates stress and pressure on your child.

2: Early discussion

Start talking about the holiday arrangements for your child as early as possible. This allows time to resolve any issues and will also provide both you, and more importantly your child, certainty. This then allows you to focus on the fun stuff.

3: Prioritise your children

Think about how your proposals may impact your children. Christmas is an opportunity to spend time with extended family members, but you will also want to avoid excessive travel and upheaval.

While it is important to listen to your child’s views, they will also need to understand that the arrangements may need to accommodate other factors. Avoid asking your child what they would prefer as this could place them in a difficult position if they feel they are being asked to choose one parent over the other.

4: Record the agreement

It is sensible to record the arrangements and both parents’ agreement in writing, for example by exchanging emails. A written agreement provides parents with the opportunity to review and discuss any remaining issues. Written arrangements can also provide certainty and prevent added stress.

5: Maintain the agreement

Once arrangements have been agreed, stick to them. Ensure you are not late for the handover times and be polite to each other. More importantly, do not speak unkindly to or about the other parent in front of the children. Any issues between parents can be communicated separately.

Francis Nash is an associate and chartered legal executive in the family law department at Awdry Bailey & Douglas, based in the firm’s Chippenham office.

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03.12.2021