The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Divorced Parents’ Guide to Resolving Family Disputes
For families everywhere Christmas can be a tricky time. Rows about whose family to visit, relatives we’d rather not see and who is cooking the Christmas dinner can all threaten to spoil what should be the most wonderful time of year.
Add divorce and child arrangements to the mix and the festive season can become even more frosty.
Now, a lawyer from Prettys has provided guidance on how to keep Christmas a magical time for all. Matthew Clemence, senior associate, collaborative lawyer and mediator with the firm, gives his top tips to ensuring a smooth yuletide without anyone falling out.
Christmas is all about the magic of children running downstairs to open their presents. This is what parents want to experience most and it can be difficult to make plans they agree on if they have divorced or are separated.
Arrangements may already be in place, so it is all about finding compromises and working out how the child can spend a good amount of time with each parent over the festive period.
One of the best options is to consider mediation – the face-to-face interaction this process offers can help both parents to understand how each other is being emotionally affected.
It also gives them a chance to air their thoughts and feelings, something which can’t be communicated as easily through letters and emails.
Dealing with cases this way can help warring parents to realise the impact their own actions could have on their children and the wider family.
Getting parents to view an issue from the other side can be quite compelling as it can make them think about their own behaviour and perspective.
The Government insists mediation is tried before disputes end up in court and there is also no public funding for this type of issue, so mediation is a much better option.
If there is no agreement, the courts will get involved. They will always try to be fair wherever possible, which means aiming for equal time between the two parents.
Be reasonable with your expectations
One issue which we have seen cause tension is over the Christmas presents a child receives from one parent and how they want to take them between both homes. We’ve seen situations where parents insist that a gift does not go to the home of the other parent.
Children should feel free to take their gifts between houses as they may want to show the other parent what they’ve got for Christmas. Parents need to be reasonable and allow this to happen.
There also needs to be an acceptance that gifts can break and if this happens at the other parent’s house this does not mean it is the fault of that person. These things need to be explored and understood by both parties.
Communication is key
When it comes to gift giving it is vital to communicate. Some parents still jointly buy presents but usually separated parents have their own individual budgets. They need to consult each other so that gifts aren’t duplicated by mistake.
If there is a financial imbalance between the two parents, agreeing a set budget will also stop any feeling of unhealthy competition regarding gift expense.
Alternatively, it should be made clear to a child that if they are receiving an expensive gift that it’s not coming from just one parent but the extended family on that side.
This prevents one parent feeling embarrassed or an ‘inferior’ parent if they can’t afford the same level of gift.
Be aware of family members overseas
Sometimes families have Christmas plans which involve travelling abroad to visit extended family. If this is the case, then you have to remain child-focused and realise that this is a life experience for the child Parents should not put their own opinions and desires before that.
Plus, with technology such as Skype and FaceTime, it is a lot easier for children to communicate with the other parent even if they’re far away.
Involve children in decision-making if appropriate
All children mature at different times and there may be other dynamics at play that sometimes hinder their ability to make a decision – especially as they won’t want to upset either parent.
But they should be included in decision-making if parents deem it appropriate. They need to appreciate the child’s wants and needs over their own.
The best thing at Christmas is for a child to see both parents being civil and accommodating to one another and making an effort to get on well. Children should not see the conflicts between parents, and this is something we try to instil with our work at Prettys.
Trying to put the needs of the child first will help ensure a trouble-free Christmas that everyone in the family can enjoy.