For many separated parents, the first Christmas after separation can be a particularly difficult time. There are no set rules about who the children should spend time with at Christmas, so it can be tough to know what to do. What works for one family, might not work for another. The key thing to keep in mind, is what is going to work best for your children.

Some things to consider are – what does Christmas usually look like for your children? Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Does one side of the family celebrate differently to the other? Do you normally have a Christmas lunch or dinner? How far away do you and your ex live from each other? Do you want the children travelling on Christmas day? What is your relationship like with your ex? Is it still possible to have a joint Christmas celebration?

For some families who live close to each other, the children might spend time with both parents on Christmas day. For example, the children might spend time with Mum from Christmas eve until Christmas morning, and then time with Dad for Christmas lunch and dinner, and then do the reverse the following year.

One family I talked to agreed that every year, the children would celebrate Christmas Eve with their Dad and have Christmas lunch with their Mother. This worked for that family because Dad’s family had a tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve and Mum’s family always had a big family lunch on Christmas Day.

For other families who don’t live close or who plan to celebrate Christmas interstate, it can work better to alternate years in terms of who the kids are with on Christmas day to avoid the children having to travel and move between households at Christmas. Another option is for one parent to have the children on Christmas day and for the other parent to have Christmas on another day.

A few years ago, one of my clients was not going to see his daughter on Christmas day, but instead saw her about 1 week later.  What he did in the lead up to Christmas, was to write her a letter from Santa, explaining that because she was a very special girl, Santa would be making two trips for her and she would be having two Christmases – one with Mum on Christmas day, and one with Dad on another day. The letter worked very well and she was very excited about having two Christmases and two visits from Santa.

No matter what you decide, it is important to reach agreement as early as possible. The best outcome will be one that you and your ex agree on, whether by direct discussions or getting assistance from a mediator or lawyer. Court should absolutely be a last resort. If you cannot agree, the Court may decide for you, but the lead up to Christmas is a very busy time at Court, and if you wait until December to apply, it is probably too late.

Whatever you end up doing for Christmas, make sure your children know what is happening well in advance and get them excited about the plans.


You may also like to read:

Tools to Make Co-parenting Easier

The Separation Challenge