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The nightmare before Christmas

Christmas 2020, in the midst of COVID-19, is shaping up to be a challenging time for the vast majority of families, not least for separated parents seeking to make arrangements to spend time with their children over the Christmas period.

In this article, the Shoosmiths family team provides some guidance about how to tackle this potentially very difficult time of year.

As of 2 December 2020, England came out of the latest national coronavirus lockdown and entered into the new tiered system of restrictions. With the Christmas period fast approaching, 99% of England, around 32 million people, are now living under the harshest two tiers of the lockdown. But, for the festive period between 23 – 27 December, the entire UK will be granted more lenient lockdown restrictions to allow families to enjoy Christmas together.

Since 2020 has been a very difficult year, this temporary relaxing of the rules is welcome news. However, the rule change is not as straightforward as it first sounds. This is particularly the case for separated families, with children living between separate households, who are unsure as to how the rules apply to them.

Government guidance, published on 2 December, states that arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents/guardians are exempt from the gatherings limits in all tiers. This means that, if you are a separated parent, your child(ren) will be able to move between Christmas “bubbles” so that they can see both parents, as support bubbles count as a single household for the Christmas period.

There are many concerned parents, however, who are increasingly anxious that they will be unable to see their children over the Christmas period or, at the very least, that they will face big problems in trying to make the necessary arrangements with their ex-partner. Some parents may also have genuine and understandable concerns regarding the level of risk caused by children moving between different households, particularly if elderly or vulnerable relatives are involved. The children themselves may be of an age where they have genuine concerns or clear wishes which should be taken into account.

Below are some suggestions which may help with making child arrangements this Christmas:

  1. Be child-focused – children should be the focal point of any arrangements. It is important to keep in mind that the family courts of England and Wales are governed by the Children Act 1989, in particular a part of it referred to as the welfare checklist. That checklist stipulates that the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration.
  2. Be organised –  if you believe that formulating child arrangements over the Christmas period is going to be difficult, do what you can to put plans in place now whilst there is still time to talk, and hopefully agree arrangements, with your ex-partner. Effective communication is crucial, so aim to be considerate and consistent with how you choose to put across your proposals to your ex-partner.
  3. Be prepared to be flexible – Christmas can be a challenging time for many families. After what has been such an unpredictable and difficult year for most, Christmas 2020 is likely to be no exception. Given that every family dynamic is unique, separated parents should be mindful that there are countless ways of enjoying Christmas with their children which do not necessarily involve spending the entirety of Christmas day together. For instance, some separated families decide that the fairest way of sharing Christmas is to alternate plans each year, whilst other families choose to split time over the festive period moving between households.

To discuss how Shoosmiths might be able to help you with problems regarding child arrangements please feel free to get in touch with our family team on 03700 86 8300.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.


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