For many separated families, holidays can be a difficult time as everyone adjusts to living apart. As Christmas holidays approach there are likely to be many parents who fear the difficulties the festive period can bring, particularly if it is the first Christmas after separation. The traditions you once enjoyed together as a family may no longer be possible and the mixture of nostalgia, concern for the children and pressure to make it ‘perfect’ can often feel overwhelming.

Here are our 5 top tips to surviving the Christmas period after separation.

1. Plan ahead
You may already have a Court order setting out the arrangements for holidays with the children which should help to minimise areas of disagreement. If not, then the key is to plan, plan and then plan some more.
If the separation has been particularly acrimonious, it is not uncommon to see parents delay discussions around Christmas to avoid further conflict. By the time parents start those discussions there is often insufficient time to agree or seek the assistance of the Court. Moreover, it is important for the children to know where they will be, particularly if this is the first year the children are not spending Christmas, with both parents together. Court orders may also not cover specific issues which you feel are important for a peaceful Christmas.
Mediation can often help parents move past any ‘sticking’ points and, if not, a parent can make an application to Court for an order in respect of the arrangements, but they must do so in good time prior to the Christmas holidays.

2. Communicate
Communication is key.
With regards to the specific arrangements, each family is different and there is no ‘one-size fits all’. Some parents will divide up Christmas day, so the children see both parents. For others, the children may spend Christmas day with one parent and Boxing-day with the other and alternate this annually. Ultimately, it comes down to what will work best for the children and in the case of older children, they may wish to be a part of those discussions.

You may also want to discuss the following:

  • The drop off and pick up times and locations for the children.
  • The wider Christmas break considering your work schedules.
  • Sharing present lists to avoid duplication.
  • A present budget in advance if possible.
  • Being consistent and agreeing what to tell the children about Santa and how it will work now there are two homes.
  • Arranging for the other parent to speak to the children on Christmas Eve and/or Day.
  • Arranging to divide up special pre-Christmas events such as visiting the grotto and Christmas markets.
  • Staggering arrangements so grandparents, aunties and uncles on both sides can spend time with the children.
  • Using a co-parenting app moving forward. There are several parenting apps which can be downloaded on your phone, and which can offer shared calendars, messaging functions which keep records and expenses record so you can collate and share expenses.
  • Alternatively, you may just want to use a shared calendar to make sure important dates are recorded.

3. Try to be open-minded
Many of the disagreements which arise between separated parents during this time are often not about Christmas per se. Frequently, it is about wanting to be recognised as an equal parent. Obviously, everyone’s perception of what is ‘fair’ will differ, however, a useful check is to ask yourself whether you would be happy with the arrangements you have proposed for the other parent. If not, you may want to reconsider.

4. Making plans
If the children are not going to be with you on Christmas day, then it is important to make plans: invite friends over, go out with extended family or volunteer. Essentially, do anything which will help make the day a little easier and enjoyable for you.
Older children, in particular, may be concerned about ‘leaving’ one parent alone on Christmas day and it is important that they can be reassured that you will also have a nice day and they should not feel any guilt.
If you are not caring for the children on Christmas day, then you may want to plan your own Christmas day with the children either in advance of Christmas or afterwards. There are also lots of Christmas activities in the run up to Christmas which you can plan and enjoy with the children to create your own memorable traditions.

5. Remember – it’s the children’s day
Parents will naturally want the children’s day to be perfect. However, ‘perfect’ often means different things to adults and children.
It is important that the children are not aware of any disagreements taking place about the Christmas arrangements. This is likely to spoil the build-up for the children and it may cause them to worry they will have to choose where to spend the day. The children will simply want to enjoy Christmas time with both parents and free from worry about upsetting either parent.
In one protracted contact case, a Judge commented to the parents that: “their childhoods slip away whilst you litigate over their futures.”
This is a stark reminder that time passes quickly and even if you feel it has been a compromise, try to enjoy your time with the children and put any future worries ‘on hold’. Bear in mind that arrangements are often alternated so, although you may not see the children on Christmas day this year, 2022 is likely to be a different story.

Moving forward

If Christmas does not turn out the way you planned this year, then it often serves as a reminder to put in place more definitive plans moving forward.

If you cannot discuss matters directly with your ex-partner, then you may wish to consider attending mediation. This is a process whereby you and the other parent will meet with a mediator to try to reach an agreement on any issues. It is not marriage counselling or therapy. The mediator is a third-party who will listen to you both and come up with ideas to try to help you reach an agreement. You can all be in the same room, separate rooms or it can even take place remotely via video conferencing.

Since January 2020, the Cayman Islands has launched Court appointed mediation. This means that upon an application to the Court in a family matter, parties are directed to attend a meeting to meet with a Court appointed mediator (for free) to see if mediation would assist. The parties can ask their lawyers to attend mediation with them and/ or help them in the background to try to reach an agreement.

McGrath Tonner has been involved in most of the leading cases in the Cayman Islands concerning family law issues and can help guide you through this difficult process. If you would like to know more about the mediation process in the Cayman Islands or how the Court approaches children issues generally then please contact us.