Sally Powell, Executive Partner and Family Law solicitor at Tees looks at how divorced or separated parents can plan ahead and schedule childcare over the school holidays this year.

The New Year is a good time to take stock of how the last twelve months went and what you want to achieve over the next year for your family. Most of us look forward with anticipation to the Christmas holidays – but they are not always harmonious, especially if you are divorced and perhaps have a blended family.

For divorced or separated parents, Christmas can be the hardest holiday of all to manage amicably. With firmly established family traditions to navigate and extended families making demands on your (and your children’s) time, the pressure is on – and can cause things to unravel rather quickly. Add to that a desire to make it a magical time for your children and you can end up returning to work in January with the thought that it has all been a compromise, with no one actually doing as they wished. You may even have spent a considerable portion of the holidays contemplating how things need to be different next year! 

Plan the year now

With this still fresh in your mind, now is a good time to work on a 12-month plan with your former partner to plan ahead for this year’s holidays. Doing this now, before you have started to make plans, helps head off any feelings of resentment. It also protects you from last-minute bookings and changes of dates.

This is not only a schedule for going away on a holiday with your children but also a time to plan childcare during the school holidays. With the children likely to have more weeks off school than you and your partner have annual leave it takes some planning now so that holiday clubs and activities can be booked in advance and family help, if it is available, is requested.

If communication with your former partner is strained then holiday planning may be more difficult. It is not unusual for one partner to be more organised than the other and expect that holidays are arranged on a first-come-first-served basis. They may even tell the children before they tell you about an upcoming holiday.

Mediation after separation

If you are already formally separated from your partner you may be familiar with family mediation. This opportunity for structured discussion is often needed just as much after separation as before. Mediation is a neutral space where you can both meet with an impartial legal professional who will listen, help you reach an amicable decision and document all that is said. It allows you to share the holiday periods, to understand if this is not necessarily a 50/50 split of the children’s time, work out how holidays are to be paid for, choose holiday activities, and discuss if grandparents, relatives or friends can be asked to help out. You may also want to formalise arrangements for contacting one parent while the other is away and for deciding which holiday activities you are both happy for your children to participate in.

Planning the holidays as your children grow up.

As children get older their holiday requirements change.  While younger children may not want too much time away from their main carer, older children may want to have a say in where they spend the school holidays and if they go away. It is usual for parents to review the situation annually and make appropriate changes as the children’s needs change.

A mediator will not tell you what to do but will help you and your former partner look at the year ahead objectively, helping you avoid obvious conflicts, and ensuring the whole family enjoys their holidays.