Christmas can be a challenging time for both separated parents and their children. For many families, it may be the first year they have spent the festive period apart so organising holiday arrangements can be fraught with difficulties. However, there are ways in which separated parents can plan to avoid any such disagreements and ensure that future discussions are put on a constructive footing.
Firstly, the most important thing to remember is that swapping homes at this time of year will be hard for your children. So, the sooner arrangements can be finalised the better. Telling the children who they are with and when is helpful for their stability.
Where possible, and to avoid the likelihood of future conflict, any agreement reached between parents can be documented in a 'parenting plan' or, if court proceedings have already begun, a 'consent order'. This agreement should be as detailed as possible to include matters such as the arrangements for a child's time between parents during term time and holidays; how key decisions are to be reached; methods of communication; foreign travel and passport renewal.
Separated parents are now increasingly using technology to co-parent, with apps such as 'OurFamilyWizard' serving as a valuable tool for ex-partners to communicate and overcome co-parenting challenges. Remember to talk about presents too. If you can ask your child to write a list that you can share and agree between houses, this means present buying is less likely to become competitive and your child will feel secure knowing that their parents can talk about Christmas together.
There are now many means by which parents can seek to reach agreement outside of court, which should be seen as a last resort. Involving someone neutral in the discussions, such as a family member or mutual friend, can be a particularly useful way to diffuse conflict. Co-parent coaching, which is an excellent resource for improving communication with each other about the children, can minimise stress and animosity too.
Mediation is another effective technique to help make decisions. A mediator will act as a neutral facilitator to encourage discussions. It is also possible for the parents’ respective solicitors to assist, either through correspondence, or at a round table meeting seeking to resolve issues. Parties are also increasingly pursuing arbitration which can result in earlier resolution than court proceedings, with the appointed arbitrator having the ability to impose a final outcome.
Making decisions together about your children and trying to avoid court naturally provides them with a more stable environment.
Establishing an effective line of communication while trying to deal with the emotional side of a separation can be particularly difficult. Although they may have attended couples’ counselling to explore a possible reconciliation, separating parents should consider the involvement of appropriate professionals such as a therapist or co-parenting coach at the time of their separation.
Therapy or coaching can provide the practical tools needed to embark on your co-parenting journey. Working with a professional may mean that the process happens more quickly and constructively so that you have what you need to bring up your children together, even though you are no longer in a relationship.
This article was written in conjunction with Marcie Shaoul who is a co-parenting coach and the founder of The Co-Parent Way. She has worked in the family law space for nearly a decade and is a co-parent herself.