Peaceful co-parenting at Christmas

As the festive season is rapidly approaching, most parents are busy planning the Christmas shop, visiting Santa and ensuring that the Christmas elves know what is on their children’s wish list. Here, Amanda McAlister, Managing Partner of McAlister Family Law, looks at the stresses of separated families over Christmas and offers her top tips for peaceful co-parenting.

For separated parents, deciding how the children are to spend their time over Christmas can be extremely stressful, especially when they do not agree.  If arrangements are not finalised before the festive break, this can lead to tensions becoming even more fraught, the result being that no one actually then looks forward to Christmas, never mind enjoying it.

As expert child and family lawyers, we are starting to see a significant increase in client enquiries surrounding Christmas contact.    Such enquiries vary from how a parent can prevent the other from seeing the children, to imposing a contact arrangement that is unfair to the other.  As Christmas is the most magical time of the year, emotions are high, and people do tend to become entrenched in their positions.

I am a divorce parent with two children.  I share care with my ex-husband and therefore have experience not only as a children lawyer but also as a parent who does not always see my children on Christmas day.  I recently appeared on the BBC Morning Live programme to talk about my top tips for peaceful parenting over the festive period which are:


Children come first.

Remember that Christmas is about what is right for the children.  Not what is right for you personally, Grandma or Christmas routines that have previously been in place.  Children can adapt and should grow up having memories of special times with both parents.  Not just one.


Santa can multitask.

With notification, Santa can multitask and deliver presents to multiple addresses.

Whilst the law does not set out precise rules on how contact should be divided, the view is that children should spend Christmas with both parents.   This can be achieved by one parent having Christmas Eve until 2pm on Christmas day and the other having the rest of the time on Christmas day through to the 27th of December.  This arrangement would then be alternated the following year.

For those that don’t relish the thought of a child’s Christmas day being interrupted by going to the other parents halfway through the day, they can agree an arrangement which will involve the children spending Christmas Eve to Boxing day with one parent and then boxing day through to the 27th or 28th with the other.  Again, this is alternated.  This has always worked for my children as they then get to relax and enjoy presents for the whole day and are less grumpy on boxing day when they come to me or go to their dads.


Grow with the children.

Arrangements that were right for a child at 4 years of age may not be right for when they are 14.   Trying to force arrangements on older children can create further upset and distress which should be avoided.  If you have teenage children, talk to them about what would work for them.  This way they feel that they are being listened to and will actually engage in the family celebrations.


Christmas giving

Whilst relations with your ex may still be raw or tense, it is important that this is not seen or felt by the children.  If they know that one parent is not happy with the arrangements and makes that clear verbally or through actions, it will impact on the children’s ability to relax and have a good time.  This can have consequences in terms of how a child in the long run will recollect their enjoyment of Christmas.  Always try to buy a small gift for the children to take to the other parent’s house and encourage them to write a nice card to take with them.  That way the children feel that they have the endorsement of the parent that they are not with that day to have a good time.


Co-parenting can be tough but if you always have what is right for the children at the forefront of your mind you will get it right.  My son is now approaching 15years of age.  He regularly reminds his father and I that we are an “embarrassment” and “sad”.  The message that I am trying to get across, is that time flies and before you know it, they do not really want to spend time with either parent.  The creation of special memories is what life is about and finding peace is the key to that.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this blog post, we can provide you with expert legal advice. For more information, please get in touch with our specialist team at


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