Some may say it is too early to think about the festive season given that pumpkin carving and bobbing for apples hasn't happened yet. However, the navigation of domestic arrangements which most people experience at Christmas can be even more complicated for separated parents.

Courts in Scotland, when considering making decisions about how children's time should be divided between their parents, must treat the welfare of the child or children as paramount.

There is accordingly no 'normal' for how Christmas arrangements will look and there will be variation in each family, especially as some families may have specific traditions they wish to partake in each year. Christmas arrangements may also differ based on the age of the child and what expectations they have. For example, a younger child may have concerns that Santa won't find them if they aren't staying in their main residence and require reassurance that the reindeer are skilled at finding them wherever they are; whereas an older child may vocalise where they want to spend Christmas. Whilst children may voice an opinion as to what they wish to do over the Christmas period, parents are not obliged to follow these views.

Unless there are compelling reasons (such as welfare concerns) for a child not to see a parent, ideally the children should see both parents over the festive period if possible. The precise details are unique to that family and what works on a practical level. Some children will spend Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day with one parent and the other part of Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the other parent. Other families will have week one of the festive holiday with one parent and week two with the other parent. The plans can alternate each year, or parents can come up with a new plan every year depending on what works best for them. In considering which arrangement works best, the parents' working hours may need to be considered. If it is not practical for the children to see both parents over the festive period, it is recommended that video or phone calls are organised to ensure there is indirect contact.

Whilst the majority of families will spend Christmas at home, if one parent wishes to have a more exotic festive period and head abroad, it is important that they obtain the consent of the other parent prior to jetting off.

If parents cannot agree on how to divide time over the festive period, it may be worthwhile consulting with a Family Law solicitor sooner rather than later. Whilst negotiation between parties (or their solicitors) is the preferred method, sometimes other methods are required. One option to consider is mediation, which allows ideas to be explored in a safe environment. If mediation isn't suitable and negotiation is not possible, it may be that litigation is required. Given the time constraints of the court, it is important that legal advice is sought promptly.


Joanne Hunter