​How do I cope with the Christmas period after divorce or separation?

​How do I cope with the Christmas period after divorce or separation?

Whilst the Christmas period is a time for families, preparing for the Christmas festivities brings with it an additional layer of stress which can put a strain on the strongest of relationships. If a family is already in the process of splitting up, or if a couple are already divorced or separated, the Christmas season can quickly turn into a festive nightmare.

Across England and Wales the first working Monday of every year has become the day where Solicitors experience a peak in enquiries regarding getting a divorce. As a result, the media have now dubbed it 'Divorce Day'. Recent news articles have quoted the number of divorce filings increasing by up to one-third in the month of January. Many of those who are filing for divorce in January do so with the idea that the New Year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start. It is becoming increasingly popular for individuals to pre-arrange appointments with solicitors many months in advance of the Christmas period with the intention of starting the divorce process in the New Year. It has recently been reported that one in five married couples are considering a divorce but hold off announcing their plans until after the festive period in an effort to keep upset among family members to a minimum.

Even for those who weren't previously considering a divorce or separation, the Christmas holidays are one of the key periods when already strained relationships can be fatally brought to an end. Christmas often brings with it the additional stress of financial strain and when this is coupled with families being forced to spend extended periods of time together in proximity it can often have a fatal effect on the relationship. A time of enjoyment can turn very quickly turn into trauma and the ending of a marriage or relationship.

The Christmas period also asks questions of those families who are already divorced or separated and are now experiencing their first Christmas apart. Parents have to arrange what time their children spend with each of them. This unavoidably results in both parents being unhappy as they will inevitably have less time with their children than they would have liked and hoped for with compromises having to be made. Unfortunately the Courts are presented with many last minute Applications by parents for a Judge to determine how much contact should take place over Christmas and beyond. Below are several tips and solutions which could help to aid agreement between separated couples and hopefully avoid the need for Court proceedings.

Plan in Advance

Whilst many separated couples prefer to avoid thinking about Christmas arrangements months in advance, it is important that they start discussions as early as possible. Trying to reach a compromise on plans over Christmas can often be fraught with difficulties especially when it is the first Christmas after their family has split up. By starting the process early on it gives the separated couple more time to work out any issues, discuss any disagreements and try to settle on arrangements which take into account both parents' wishes.

Putting the Children First

It is important that the Children's best interests are kept at heart when trying to agree arrangements over Christmas. This often means that separated parents have to compromise and they may not get all they would ideally want. Trying to put aside differences allows separating couples to focus on giving their children a positive and memorable Christmas. Often the most idyllic scenario is for them to spend Christmas together with their children. This removes a child's worry of having to split their time between each parent and allows them to spend the day together as a family. However, such an approach requires at least some form of amicability between parents and may not always be possible or practical.

In circumstances when it might not be possible to spend a Christmas together a possible alternative might be for children to spend alternate Christmas days with each parent. This does however introduce the problem that each year one parent will not get the chance to see their children on Christmas Day and could be left alone. This can often be too much to bear for some parents. When an alternating year approach is taken, a popular solution is often the introduction of a 'Second Christmas'. This gives both parents the opportunity to celebrate the special day with their Children and they can both duplicate the traditional festivities such as giving presents and having a Christmas dinner.

A Collaborative Approach

Whilst trying to reach an agreement on Christmas arrangements it can be beneficial for separated couples to avoid the adversarial approach of starting Court proceedings and instead trying to adopt as non-confrontational way as possible. Neale Grearson, who is a partner at Clapham & Collinge and head of the Family Law Team, is a qualified Collaborative Lawyer and member of the Norfolk Good Divorce Group. The Good Divorce Group launched in October 2012, and is made up of collaborative lawyers, mediators and arbitrators committed to finding a better alternative than the adversarial approach used at Court. Avoiding the "I will see you in Court" approach it often vital in order to reach an agreement on arrangements and helps to reduce the emotional impact separated families experience over the festive period.

To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Family Law Solicitors are on hand to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Brooke and Sheringham offices.