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Managing a marital crisis at Christmas

18th December 2015 - Kathryn Mason
Managing a marital crisis at Christmas

We have all seen the heart-wrenching scene from Love Actually in which the doting wife and mother discovers that her husband has bought an expensive necklace… for someone else.

With temptation high at work parties, alcohol-fuelled arguments, and resentment at having to pick the perfect present, it is not surprising that some couples wake up to the fact that their relationship is over at Christmas.

Although most couples try to keep it together over the Christmas period, particularly if there are children involved, the worry of an imminent separation in the New Year and not knowing what the legal position is upon divorce can add to the strain.

Tips for separating couples

  1. You are not the only ones It is no secret that the busiest time for divorce lawyers is the first Monday back at work after the Christmas break – this year to fall on Monday 4 January 2016. In fact, it is widely reported that the month of January has double the amount of divorce petitions filed at court than any other month of the year. Whether you make your moves on this side of Christmas or wait until the New Year, thousands of other people will be in the same position and family lawyers have plenty of experience in helping you through this difficult time.
  1. Giving can help Although it is difficult to deal with a relationship break up over the festive period, being surrounded by happiness can help you emotionally, as surrounding yourself with people who will uplift you will improve your holiday blues. Further studies show that giving to others makes you happier – so the gift of giving over the festive season may actually help you through the holidays. Avoid isolating yourself – it will only make you feel worse.

Children arrangements over Christmas

  1. Put workable contact arrangements in place Family lawyers recommend having contact arrangements in place well ahead of the Christmas period. It is natural for parents to want the special Christmas Eve and Christmas morning contact slot but the arrangements have to be fair. A common arrangement is for the parents to divide the break into Christmas Eve/Christmas morning and Christmas afternoon/Boxing Day.
  2. Try alternating You could alternate the Christmas break with the New Year – if one parent has the children for Christmas, the other could spend the New Year with them. Try to get the correct arrangements in place for Christmas – the correct ones being the ones that work for the parents and, most importantly, for the children.
  3. Dont forget the grandparents Grandparents often lose out after a separation, particularly the grandparents on the side of the non-resident parent. For example, if the children live with their mother, the maternal grandparents often have a lot more contact with the children than the paternal grandparents. Christmas is a time where families want to be together, so try to make arrangements for both sets of grandparents to have quality time with the children and sustain relationships on both sides of the family – so long as the children are happy with those arrangements.
  4. Agree a gift budget Should you be helping the children buy a present for the other parent? Probably – depending on how the relationship ended and how amicable the relationship is. Remember, the holidays should not be used as an opportunity to score points against your ex-partner. Discussing and agreeing upon a budget for the children in advance can prevent resentment over the Christmas presents selected rather than risking one parent feeling like they are not good enough because they didnt splash the cash on the extravagant gift.


  1. You do not have to pretend that the new family arrangements are easy – it will be an emotional time for all parties, especially if this is the first Christmas you are spending as a separated family. Remember that as much as it hurts you, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year for children, so whatever you do, focus on making the kids happy.
  2. Try to cooperate as much as possible, so that everyone knows what they are doing in advance – this will prevent any uncertainty for the children and also for the wider family arrangements.
  3. There is often no time like the present to speak with lawyers, so if the uncertainty of your legal position is adding to the stress and strain of the festive period, do consider taking legal advice.
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