THE festive season can be a difficult time for families after a separation – even for those parenting together who have been apart for several years or when the separation is amicable. Getting through Christmas is an important part of the journey you, your children and wider family members all have to go through. Separated parents usually both want to spend time with their children during the highlights of the festive season. You can agree Christmas contact arrangements directly with your ex-partner, failing which, a court can be asked to decide. Even though it can be difficult for all involved, there are ways to avoid these arrangements becoming stressful for all concerned. Here are some helpful tips to guide you through the process: Plan ahead Start discussing your plans for Christmas in good time. If you wait until December to try to resolve this issue and agreement cannot be reached, inevitably, one of you will be disappointed. Contact a family law solicitor in good time. If there are disagreements and assistance from a family law solicitor is required, there will be plenty of time to address matters. Communicate with your children Depending on their age, ask the children how they feel about the arrangements for Christmas. Is splitting Christmas Day so that they can see both of you important to them or would they rather spend a block of time with each of you? Children place a lot of importance on Christmas Day – try putting your difficulties aside during the festivities. Consider the logistics Is it practical for your children to spend time with both of you on Christmas Day? Try to avoid creating difficulties by agreeing to arrangements which, from a travel or cost perspective, are prohibitive. Christmas Day can be exhausting enough for children without factoring in complicated travel arrangements. Be mindful of bad weather Have a backup plan in place in case of hazardous travel conditions. Ensure you exchange emergency contact numbers. Put the children first Remember the aim is to give your children as great a Christmas with each of you separately as they had when you were together. It should not be about point scoring against your ex-partner. Try not to "out-spend" your ex-partner on gifts and treats for the children. Consider discussing who is buying which gifts and, for example, who is taking the children to the pantomime. Existing arrangements Consider whether the existing arrangements for contact need to be altered in the lead up to Christmas Day to accommodate, for example, the children’s attendance at Christmas parties or visiting relatives they may not see at Christmas time. Christmas traditions Look at family traditions each of you have which are important to your children. Be prepared to compromise and embrace new traditions. Put it in writing Once you have reached an agreement regarding the arrangements, consider exchanging text messages or emails to confirm what has been agreed to avoid any misunderstandings. Depending on their age, it may be appropriate to ensure the children know what is happening and when. If the arrangements do need to be changed, avoid doing so at the last minute and without explanation. If you are on the receiving end of a request to vary the arrangements, avoid the temptation to automatically dismiss it – they may have received a last minute invitation which the children might enjoy or their employer may be making requests of them. Try to avoid assuming the worst of your ex-partner. At the end of the day, compromise and negotiation are more effective than conflict and are more likely to foster a positive working relationship between separated parents. Consider the other person’s viewpoint whilst focusing on what is best for the children. This is good advice at any time of the year. If you are unable to reach agreement regarding the arrangements for Christmas, contact our family law team for advice as soon as possible. Knowing that you have the arrangements for Christmas contact resolved well in advance will allow you to enjoy the build up to the big day.