It’s the most wonderful time of the year – tips on keeping it that way by successfully co-parenting Christmas!

Sarah Mortimer, solicitor in our Family department in Baker Street, discusses the various co-parenting options for Christmas.

Christmas holidays

At this time of year, family lawyers spend a lot of time helping clients with arrangements for the Christmas period.  Christmas is an important time for many families in the UK, and agreeing where children should spend Christmas day in particular can  cause difficult and emotionally charged conversations for separated co-parents.

So, what are the most common arrangements for co-parenting over Christmas? Who should the children spend Christmas day with?  Sarah Mortimer from our Family Team has set out some of the benefits and pitfalls of the most common arrangements for separated parents navigating the festive period.

The Christmas alternator

The most common arrangement for separated parents is to alternate Christmas Day with each parent annually.  The main benefit of this is that the children get to experience the “whole” Christmas experience with each parent, albeit every other year.  Relatively, there is less disruption than in an arrangement which necessitates travel between parents.  Importantly, in separated families where the parents struggle to get along, it minimises the risk of contention being witnessed by the children.

The amount of time that is alternated can vary, from just Christmas Day itself to the entire duration of the Christmas holidays (often the option of choice for parents who like to go away for Christmas, to visit family abroad or some distance away, for example).  It can of course be difficult for the non-hosting parent on their “off” years, who may feel that they are missing out on making important memories with their children.  It can also be difficult for children, who might miss the other parent over the Christmas period, or worry that their parent is feeling excluded.  This is intensified in circumstances where a more sizeable chunk of time is alternated.

The Christmas split

Some parents decide to divide the festivities down the middle, with a handover on Christmas Day itself.  For example, children might spend Christmas Eve and overnight to Christmas morning with one parent, where they will open their stockings and presents.  They will then go to the other parent around midday, where they will have Christmas lunch, sleep overnight, and spend Boxing Day.

Unlike with an alternating arrangement, this means that children get to experience some of the magic of Christmas with each parent each year. This arrangement works best for separated families where the parents live relatively close together, and where handovers in general are friendly or at least neutral between the parents, otherwise the handover on Christmas Day can cause stress and disruption to children.

The Christmas visitor

In this arrangement, the children will spend Christmas Eve, overnight and Christmas Day each year at the same parents’ home (usually the “primary carer”, but not always).  The other parent will attend on Christmas Day for an agreed chunk of the day, whether that is first thing in the morning for present opening, for Christmas lunch or dinner, or in the evening.  Sometimes, its for the entire day!

The benefit of this arrangement is that the children will wake up in their “usual” beds on Christmas morning, whilst spending some time with each parent making memories every Christmas.  This is only a child focused and feasible option in separated families where the parents have a positive co-parenting relationship, as for obvious reasons if parents struggle to get along this arrangement could cause children an enormous amount of stress or upset which could overshadow the festivities.


For further assistance in organising or formalising arrangements, please contact one of the team at Baker Street on +44 (0)20 7034 4200 or visit our website at

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