CHRISTMAS is a time of year where all the family try to spend time together. With all the arrangements and preparations it can be stressful for any family and can lead to conflict and disagreement.

Being apart at Christmas whether through divorce or separation or through work can be an especially difficult and stressful time of year. It can be heartbreaking for both children and parents who are not able to spend time with their children.

In respect of those parents who have recently experienced divorce or separation, and are facing their first year not being together as a family, here are some tips to help you get through the Christmas period, and to plan future Christmas’s so that the children and parents can continue to enjoy this special time.

Remember that Christmas is not just one day. There are 12 days of Christmas. Whilst the emphasis tends to focus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as the most magical parts of Christmas, it doesn’t have to – there is no reason why these special moments cannot be recreated in both homes.

Ensure that you plan well in advance. The plan needs to be clear so that there can be no misinterpretation.

It is important that both parents have equal time over the festive period if at all possible. If the parties live close to each other and the distance isn’t too far, it might be quite a sensible solution to split Christmas Day into two halves and each year alternate who has Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. However if the distance is a problem, it would not be sensible or fair to make a child spend a significant amount of the day travelling and so the day itself, and perhaps the better solution is to take it in turns.

It is important that you try to avoid any emotive language and derogatory comments about the other party’s family.

If you cannot discuss arrangements face to face, then use email. But try not to make email correspondence become lengthy, or get out of hand. It is a balance.

Ultimately the decision needs to be sorted out between the parents and the child should not have the responsibility for the decision.

Discussing Christmas arrangements with the children, should be kept in a positive light. The children need to be excited about the fact they going to have two Christmases, one with mum and one with dad, and they also need to be clear when they will be seeing each parent, and their extended families. Christmas is such an exciting magical time for the children it is therefore important that all parties focus what would be best for the children.

Once you have made your decision about how Christmas is going to be split, it is a very good idea to set it all out in writing. This way there can be no uncertainty and everybody knows the times and dates that they are going to see each parent. It is also very important that you stick to the times agreed especially if there is a change over on Christmas Day. Any variation without notice could cause hostility and will ultimately have a negative effect upon the children.

When buying presents for the children again, try and communicated about this. If possible, discuss how you are going to split the children’s Christmas lists. You may wish to set an agreed budget so that one parent does not spend a lot more money than the other parent, which can cause friction.

On the day itself, if there is some travelling between homes, remember not to let alcohol consumption ruin the day. Obviously make sure you are not drinking and driving, but even if not, remember that alcohol can affect mood, and if there is friction between you and your ex already, heightened emotions and alcohol can be a dangerous combination.

If this year is not your turn to have Christmas day it is important that you do not see this in a negative light, and look to the future and realise that you will be spending alternate Christmases with your child or children and that the most important focus is on the children having a good time and feel loved by both sets of parents and their extended families.

Co-written by Helen Bishop, Consultant Solicitor