There are approximately 100,000 children under the age of 16 in the UK who have divorced parents. That's 100,000 Christmases this year which won't conform to the 'norm', and 100,000 reasons for us as single parents to worry that we are doing whatever we can to make it a happy Christmas for our kids. If we don't get on brilliantly with our ex spouses, Christmas can be...well, absolutely hideous, quite frankly.
We all want to make Christmas special for our children. So, with help from The Secret Divorcee's Twitter followers, we've compiled a list of questions for Jenny to answer, in the hope that it might give some support over what can be a very difficult time.
This is not a sponsored or promoted post, but it's definitely worth mentioning here that the Co-op do produce a free guide for separated and divorced parents about how best to enjoy a stress-free Christmas with their children. You can access it here: http://bit.ly/12kw6LI .
The Q & A
Q. My husband looks after our children every alternate weekend. Last Christmas fell on days when I was looking after them, and I told my ex that he was welcome to see them over the Christmas period. He said he would do that, but wanted me to 'take that time back'; in other words, that I should look after the kids for an additional time at a later date. I refused, and he decided that he didn't want to see the children. In addition, he told his friends and family that I had refused him access. This year, again Christmas falls on days when I'm with the kids. My ex has said that, if I do not agree to his terms, he will refuse my access completely when it is his turn to have the kids over Christmas. I have capitulated, unwillingly, but feel that he has blackmailed me. I just want to spend Christmas with my children – I don't want to steal any time back. What are my rights here?
A. You are in a difficult position here as you don’t want to inflame the situation but clearly don’t want to have no voice in the arrangements. You and your ex need to focus on what is best for the children and agree a way of co-parenting and making arrangements not just for this Christmas but for the next, and the next and birthdays and holidays. Perhaps approach your ex with the prospect of mediation? A mediator will listen to both of your arguments and help come up with a solution. I would strongly recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future.
Q. My ex-husband and I have been separated for a year. I left him because he was aggressive and volatile towards me – but never to the children. However, I know that Christmas is potentially a 'pinch point' point for him and I'm nervous in leaving him alone with the children over the festive period. What should I do?
A. If you are seriously concerned about the welfare of your children you should seek legal advice straight away. It is vitally important that you take no risks at all.
Q. My ex-wife is having the children this year for Christmas. It's the first year I will have been without them and I have told her that I will ring to speak to them in the morning. She has told me that she will not answer; that when they are with her, they are with her, and I should keep away. Surely this isn't fair, and not good for the children? I'm finding it very hard to deal with.
A. Christmas is a very special time for families and for separated families it is important that they find some common ground and compromise in terms of child care. I would perhaps leave your ex-wife to cool off for a week or so and then approach the subject again. Try to arrange a time that suits both of you for you to call the children. In addition to this, I would recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future.
Q. My ex-wife and I have been divorced for nine years. We have two children – now 11 and 13 – and have managed the Christmas period by alternating who has the children; until now. My ex and her partner have a 3 year old baby, and she is saying that she wants our children to stay at their home for the entirety of the Christmas period, so that the 3 year old isn't unsettled. But it's my turn to see my children! I think that they are just making an excuse to hold onto the children, but what rights do I have to see them?
A. The law really doesn't look at the rights of parents but focusses on the rights of children and the importance of agreeing arrangements which are in their best interests. I'm not aware of your usual living arrangements or how close together you live but on the face of it, it would certainly be in the children’s best interests to spend time with both you and their young sibling. I would suggest you try to be flexible and compromise with your ex-wife so as to achieve a middle ground and thereafter fix some clear rules for the future to give the children the certainty they need.
Q. My ex-husband has family in Egypt and wants to take them abroad for Christmas. I do not want him to take them. What are my rights?
A. No parent should take their child out of the country, even for a holiday, without the permission of everyone who has Parental Responsibility. If a parent has a residence order in their favour they can take the child abroad for up to one month, but it is still good practice to talk to the other parent, especially if it affects arrangements for them seeing the child. If you are worried about your child being taken abroad without your permission you can take urgent steps to stop this so you should seek legal advice.
Before signing off, I have to mention Gingerbread, a charity specifically for single parents like you and me and another fabulous resource for advice. They have produced a fact sheet about managing at Christmas, and you can read it here: http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/factsheet/46/Christmas-Top-Tips
With lots of love and festive wishes for a calm and peaceful (and somewhat magical, of course) Christmas for you and your children.
The Secret Divorcee xxx