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Happy Christmas for the Modern, Complex Family

View profile for Angela Killa
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Christmas is, of course, a time of celebration, reflection upon the year gone by and the year ahead, and a time for family. For many of us it can also be fraught with extra stresses and pitfalls – not least for the *more than 500,000 step-families in England and Wales.

The traditional family unit has been reconfigured by successive generations, but many families are forging ways of making blended and unconventional family models work just fine for them.

However, making Christmas work for everyone, if you have children with former partners and new families to integrate with, can be tricky.

Angela Killa, an Associate Solicitor with the Family Team at JCP Solicitors, helps scores of families negotiate the sensitive path to family harmony.

Angela specialises in all areas of family law and she shares her advice on making the modern family work, particularly at Christmas time.

“Christmas can put extra stress upon all families, whether they are traditional family units, blended families, or separated families where there is contact with former partners.

“Children get excited about what Santa may bring and it is natural for both parents to want to enjoy the children’s smiles on Christmas morning.

“If you have a complex family, making Christmas work for everyone, and making Christmas a peaceful and an enjoyable time, takes some compromise on all sides.

“As with all matters concerning children, it is always best for the parents to try to agree well in advance what the arrangements will be over Christmas.

“This will cause less distress to everyone, it will help give the children a feeling of security and it will help everyone to settle their plans in good time.

“It can help things run smoothly if each parent tries to see things from the child’s point of view. It is likely, for example, that that your child will want to spend time with both mum and dad over Christmas. And by all means ask them if this is the case – without putting pressure on them.

“If both parents live close to each other, consider sharing the day so your child can have time with both mum and dad on Christmas Day.

“Or, you might agree for mum to have the child on Christmas Eve and dad to spend Christmas Day with them.

“In this scenario it is helpful if, instead of focusing on the time you aren't spending with your child, you make the most of the days or hours you do have together and use your ‘time off’ to enjoy some ‘me time’, to spend time with friends or  extended family, or to get things ready for your child’s visit.

Why not think about creating your own family tradition, like enjoying two Christmases – one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day? or you could encourage your child to write to Santa to ask him to visit two homes.

If you, as parents, aren't able to agree upon arrangements, consider meeting with an independent mediator. They may be able to help you find a resolution everyone can live with.

If mediation doesn’t work, or if you have left it too late to go down this route, you might have to make an application to the Court.

The Court will consider all your circumstances before making a decision based on what is in the child’s best interests and, if your child is mature enough, their wishes may be taken into consideration too.

Feelings run high in families and it can be hard for parents to separate their own feelings, grievances and histories from the situation at hand.

“But at the end of the day everyone wants to enjoy a peaceful Christmas and everyone wants to create enjoyable memories for their children, so it is worth making every effort to help Christmas go smoothly.

“The most important thing is that your child is happy and that he or she gets to spend time with all of their loved ones at Christmas.”

Nadolig Llawen!

*According to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics.

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