5 December 2014

Co-Parenting at Christmas.

Christmas is a tricky time of year for separated and divorced parents.  In the early days, no-one knows what 'the right thing' to do is and then as you become more familiar with family law and are happy with the arrangements, the kids throw a spanner in the works.  They've become older, have formed their own opinions and you're lucky if they want to see any of you, let alone celebrate two Christmasses with both sets of parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. *Big Sigh!*

For some of us, the single parenting / co-parenting situation can be fairly straightforward.  For others though, it's nigh on impossible.  My experiences have led me to ascertain that if one of the parties was really darned unreasonable during the marriage, they're likely to remain that way when you have ongoing dealings with them.  And I'm not just talking about mine (*rolls eyes at continual exapseration with nutty ex-h*) but others' too. 

Fraught feelings pass, but in the early days, and / or especially at this time of year, we might need help. There is no 'right way' for everyone.  What serves your family best is key, as is spelled out in this brilliant co-parenting guide which has come to my attention.  When both parties put aside their anger and focus on damage limitation, much can be achieved.

It's produced by The Co-operative Legal Services and it's FREE, full of helpful tips and advice on the issues we need to consider and I really recommend a read.  It keeps co-parenting after divorce as straightforward as is possible.

In the interests of reducing stress around the logistics of the festive season though and making it more enjoyable for everyone, they've provided me personally with their Family Law expert Jenny Beck, to whom I've posed these rather probing (genuine, obvs) questions and seeing as no circumstances are black and white her answers are in blue ;) !  I hope they go some way towards alleviating any anxiety you - or someone you know - might be feeling. 

Jenny Beck, The Cooperative Legal Advice, Family Law expert. 

Our Questions & Answers:

  1. What's the normal arrangement for divorced or separated parents re their kids at Christmas? time? There isn’t a ‘normal’ arrangement as such. It depends on the parents and children’s individual needs and circumstances. Ideally, children would spend equal time with both of their parents during the Christmas holidays and arrangements such as whether mum has the children on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and dad has the children on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day would alternate year on year to make things fair. 
  1. My ex-husband was supposed to have his first set of children every other Christmas, alternated with New Year, but the children didn't really want to be away from their mum and I didn’t think it was fair - what’s best in this situation?  It’s understandable that your ex wants to spend Christmas Day with his children. If the children don’t want to be away from their mum, perhaps both parents could come to an agreement that suits everyone. For example, the children staying with their mum on Christmas Eve allowing the father to visit them at home on Christmas Day? That way, he benefits from seeing them and they don’t miss out on spending quality time with their father at an important time of year. This is of course is dependent on whether the parents’ relationship, is an amicable one. If it isn’t amicable, I wouldn’t advise this and would instead advise that the parents reach an agreement such as the child spending a few hours on Christmas Day with their father. Children pick up on negative atmospheres which can lead to them being very unhappy. 
  1. What about if the children are used to a big family bash at the in-laws with aunties, uncles and cousins etc. and now you're looking at a quiet Christmas at home.  Won't they be missing out?  Do you think it's really fair for them to miss out on what they're used to?  I think it’s important to put children’s’ needs first. Family is so important and it’s good for children to build relationships with extended family members. Having said that, it’s vital that children develop relationships and bonds with their parents. I think in this case, there needs to be a compromise. Could the children not spend Christmas Eve with one parent and that side of the family and then Christmas Day with the other parent and their family? That way each parent and their relatives are able to spend some time with the children. 
  1. What kind of sway do you think the children should have when decisions are being made re arrangements, vs what the law says?  The law suggests that children’s wishes and feelings should be taken into account in decision making but the weight placed on those views will depend on age and maturity. The reality is that asking children to decide what they want places them in a really difficult emotional place and this sort of pressure should be avoided at all costs. The adults should understand their wishes and needs and make sensible decisions to meet them . These decisions are best communicated in a united way so that the children are presented a plan to suit them with both parents in agreement. 
  1. I know some estranged couples that live near each other who share the day with the children - the morning at home, the afternoon with the non-resident parent.  What do you think of that and how long past the separation point do you think that's a good idea?  Each family’s individual circumstances are personal to them. There is not a one rule fits all approach when it comes to separation. Where parents have an amicable co-parenting relationship, it is beneficial for all parties involved. For some ex partners, however this is just not possible as they struggle to communicate with one another on a weekly basis, let alone spend time together daily. Where separated and divorced parents have continued to attend all family events and functions together as a family and a new partner is introduced, it can become quite awkward as the new partner might be uncomfortable with the ex being around so much. 
  1. How confusing do you think it is for the children for the non-resident parent to come round for the day and share it all together - like some people seem to be able to do?  Providing both parents have sat down with the children following their decision to separate and clearly explained that they are no longer going to be together but that both parents will continue to see them as much as possible, it shouldn’t be too confusing for them. Much will depend on the relationship between the parents but these arrangements can work. 
  1. What about where the kids don't really want to see their other parent anymore but presents still arrive? How best should they / we deal with that? Although it’s often hard to do its very important for parents to encourage a positive view of their ex and presents should be given and communication encouraged. Children’s views change over time and allowing a parent to become completely marginalised presents real emotional risks as children grow up. Often they can end up demonising, or idealising the absent parent and this can impact on their relationship with their primary carer and other family members. It also impacts their own self esteem. 
  1. And where do the grandparents stand all round?   Grandparents are often  important sources of support and stability, particularly when they can be balanced and not take sides between sparring parents. Relationships with wider family are always important to children and Christmas is a time to enjoy them. 
  1. And what about where the parents have kids on set days and they fall on Christmas and you can't get your ex to be flexible and the kids are complaining - and the days are a court order - where does the law stand? It is beneficial for both parents and their children to have a routine and set days or weeks in place so that all parties involved are clear on arrangements and so that parents can make relevant childcare plans. For Christmas and other holidays throughout the year, parents need to be more flexible and plan in advance of these holidays and occasions. Most well thought through orders will provide for holiday periods. If your ex-partner isn’t flexible and refuses to change set days or weeks, I would recommend seeking advice such as mediation. A mediator can take some of the pressure of you and can help by sorting through your arrangements to ensure childcare suits both of you. 
If you can think of something we haven't covered, please do make contact.  Leave a question below or Tweet me at @anyaharris01.  You might come up with the elementary question that occurred to me in the middle of the night which has escaped me since and, as always, your comments are most welcome too! 

Disclosure - This post is in association with The Co-operative Legal Services.