**UPDATED 12 OCTOBER 2020**
The Christmas holiday season can be stressful enough for divorced parents. To add to the strain, the ever-changing raft of Covid-related restrictions means planning for this important time of year could be nigh-on impossible.
On Tuesday 22 September 2020 the Government introduced the “rule of six”, which prohibits gatherings of more than six people indoors and outdoors. This will no doubt impact a lot of celebrations this year, with the larger gatherings and festivities of previous years seemingly confined to the distant past. As to whether the Coronavirus situation will improve before the end of the year or whether another full national lockdown will be imposed, this remains unclear at present.
Global pandemic aside, every year our family law solicitors advise parents who are facing difficult questions around the Christmas holidays following a divorce. For a lot of families, issues tend to centre around deciding who the children will spend Christmas day with and what happens when a parent faces spending the whole of Christmas without seeing their children.
Christmas child arrangements and Covid
For the most part, our advice remains the same:
Plan ahead where possible
In ‘normal’ times, most families adjust to life after separation, meaning that children spend time during the festive period with both parents. If handled sensitively, children adjust quickly and look forward to the opportunity to share their Christmas holiday celebrations with both parts of their family.
Usually, it is the parents who find adjusting to not being able to be with their child over the entire Christmas period the hardest. The key is to plan ahead and not leave difficult decisions to the last minute.
Consider the bigger picture
Some parents tell us that they dread the onset of the festive period and struggle to accept the new arrangements. Long term, being able to truly co-parent your child so that they understand that both parents love them and want to spend positive periods of time with them, is the ideal. It’s easier for some to achieve this than others.
Talk to each other
If there are no welfare issues, it is usually quicker and cheaper to use a mediator rather than going to court. They will arrange a meeting with your former partner, and their solicitor (if any/appropriate) to negotiate how childcare over the Christmas holidays will be split. Communication is key: airing your thoughts normally pays off, allowing you to negotiate a fair, practical custody agreement over the festive season well in advance.
Ensuring your child can spend time with both parents, and extended family, is vital to most - providing the restrictions in place will allow. Your plans don’t have to focus around the grandparent’s availability but making sure your child can see their extended family over the Christmas holidays is important to the entire family.
Further advice for these uncertain times
In order to try and combat the current uncertainties posed by the pandemic, we suggest making plans based on the current rules, which the Government has suggested could remain in place for possibly as long as six months. In addition to this:
- agree on a contingency plan for if the worst happens and lockdown restrictions tighten.
- Don’t leave your plans to the last minute. In light of the public holidays, if you think Christmas is going to be a problem, seek legal advice well in advance of 21st December. This will give you plenty of time to reach an agreement that suits the needs of both parents, and your children.
- Think creatively - with fewer places set round the table during your celebrations, make sure to think about ways to involve members of the family who could not join this year. For example, set up a group video call during the big dinner so you can all still “sit” round a table together.
It is really important that, during this difficult time, parents work collaboratively and accept that there will have to be some compromises. The Christmas holidays are always a source of contention, and the new complications and restrictions will unfortunately add pressure to an already difficult conversation.
If you are struggling to agree on plans this year – or any other time of year– try speaking to a neutral third party or mediator to help you plan ahead as much as possible. Clare Pilsworth is a mediator in our Cambridge office, and she would be happy to have a discussion with you and your co-parent about making the most of the festive period this year.