Christmas Child Arrangements

Christmas is coming. One could be excused for imagining that it actually arrived weeks ago as the  run up now seems to start in October. However it really is about to arrive now. My advent calendar counts down the days. The approach to Christmas has a side effect which increases the stress levels of solicitors, judges and mediators. It’s the knowledge that many separated parents will battle about where their children will spend the day.

I get it. As adults we reclaim the magic of Christmas when we have our own children. We re-live the excitement and that splendid crescendo of expectation which gets lost in never ending lists of things to do as we grow up. Which parent doesn’t want to share the day itself with his or her children?

But this year feels different. I’m not pretending that sweetness and light prevails throughout. I have noticed however in mediations which I’ve done this year that accepted models for separated families at Christmas seem to becoming established. It’s like that point. years ago now, where the alternate weekend and overnight in the week somehow became a norm. Then it was as if a message had travelled on the wind to separated parents throughout the land, albeit still leaving lots of room for argument about the exact details.

Maybe mediators and lawyers can  take some credit for the Christmas patterns which I now find many of my mediation clients  adopting to the extent that they have it all sorted before coming to mediation. We take our experience of what has worked for other clients and pass it along. I know that I have used my experience of what has been thrashed out as acceptable with parents who couldn’t agree, to suggest patterns to future clients, confident in saying that these are ways of doing Christmas which I know have worked for other people.

What are those patterns? Well I guess, where geography permits, the clear favourite is a split of Christmas Day itself with a collection at tea time with parents often alternating where their children are on Christmas Eve and therefore Christmas morning each year. Boxing Day takes on more significance than just eating up cold turkey for the parent who missed out on Christmas morning. The next choice is an annual alternating of the whole of Christmas Eve and  Christmas Day but it trails a long way for my mediation clients behind the shared Christmas Day.

All this means that I’ve had far fewer heated and acrimonious disputes about Christmas in my mediations this year than ever before. I still remember one mediation in the context of a court application where the parents crafted a very detailed agreement running almost to two pages but were irredeemably stuck on Christmas. I know the balance of what they settled was made into a consent order with the court being asked to determine Christmas.

Less stress for family law professionals has to be a good thing. The most important though is that children whose parents haven’t fallen out about the whole thing must have a happier Christmas.

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