One-in-five Divorced Parents Argue about Children's Christmas Arrangements

18 December 2014

  • More than a quarter (28%) of divorced, separated and step-parents ‘dread’ making Christmas arrangements for their children with their ex.
  • One-in-five (20%) believe the difficult process negatively affects their children.

Celebrated as a time for the family, the logistics of the festive period can turn Christmas into one of the most stressful times of the year for many separated and divorced parents across the UK, according to new research from Co-op Legal Services.

The research reveals that one-in-five (20%) divorced, separated and step-parents fall out with their ex-partner every year when it comes to making arrangements for their kids at Christmas. The same number believe that the process causes so much stress that it has a negative impact on the welfare of their children.

Despite over two fifths (42%) admitting that it is important for their children to have a pre-arranged routine for the holidays, more than a quarter (28%) say that they intentionally delay confirming plans because they dread the difficult conversations with their ex. Only one in ten (11%) agree plans for their children together, and almost one-in-ten (9%) say they do not discuss arrangements at all.

And it’s not just immediate family members who cause friction, with half of parents (50%) claiming that demands for the kids to visit extended family members like aunts and uncles add further stress to the process. As a result, almost two thirds (59%) say they won’t commit to spending time with extended family members when making holiday plans.

“The festive period is a very emotional time for many families, and most divorced and separated parents would like to spend as much time as they can with their children. While finding a meeting of minds is often difficult, it is always in the children’s best interests to have a clear plan for their time which everyone agrees on.

“This does not necessarily mean that children should decide for themselves. Many parents we surveyed saw this as the fairest option, however this places an inappropriate emotional burden on the children who will want to keep both parents happy. If you find it challenging to agree arrangements, it is worth considering a third party like a mediator, who can help you to reach a fair decision. “And when it comes to how much time to allow for planning, it’s best to start early so I’d recommend planning now for next Christmas and other events next year.

Our research shows that almost half of parents start planning one-to-three months in advance of the holidays, which is very encouraging. Allowing enough time means visits to wider family members and even trips abroad can be considered in a more rational way, meaning a much happier, calmer Christmas is had by all.”

Co-op Legal Services have also compiled a list of top tips to help parents manage tricky holiday plans this Christmas: 

  1. Don’t feel pressured to conform to a ‘normal’ arrangement for Christmas. It depends entirely on the parents’ and children’s individual needs and circumstances. The children’s best interests should be the guiding factor.
  2. If your ex-partner isn’t flexible and refuses to change set days or weeks, it might be worth considering mediation. A mediator can take some of the pressure off and can help by sorting through your arrangements to find a fair, sensible and workable solution that suits everyone.
  3. It’s great if you are amicable with your ex and can spend some of the holiday period together. But I wouldn’t advise this if your relationship is at all strained, as children pick up on a negative atmosphere which can lead to them being very unhappy.
  4. The reality is that asking children to decide what they want to do places them in a difficult emotional place. 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.
  5. Grandparents and wider family members 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.

Co-operative Legal Services has produced a co-parenting guide, covering a range of issues that families face during and after separation and divorce.

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