Christmas is fast approaching and many families will be in the process of making arrangements for the big day itself. For many people, Christmas is a time of good will and particularly a time for visiting and spending time with family. Christmas can however be very difficult for the parents and children of separated families, and discussions about where the children of the family will spend Christmas can sadly end up being very challenging particularly where both parents, understandably, want to see their child(ren) on Christmas morning.
Below are some suggestions and advice to try and help you with making these Christmas arrangements, and hopefully avoid falling into a “Christmas Contact” dispute:
- The first thing to remember is that the child’s best interests and welfare should be the paramount concern of all involved and indeed are the primary concern of the Court in any proceedings relating to children.
- It is important to try and reach an agreement with your ex-partner in plenty of time to avoid any last minute discussions or potential for arguments, and as a worst case scenario an urgent application to the Family Court to try and resolve the issue. Start discussing the arrangements as soon as possible, perhaps in October each year, or even earlier and if possible try and agree a regular or alternating pattern for each year so everyone knows the arrangements moving forward.
- Alternating the arrangements so that the child spends alternating Christmases with each parent is often the fairer way of dividing time. Some Parents agree to split the day itself but travel arrangements will also need be discussed and agreed and long journeys may not always be best for the children who are trying to enjoy their Christmas Day.
- If you cannot reach agreement, consider referring yourself to a local Mediation Service. You and your partner can then sit together with an impartial third party to discuss your proposals for contact. It is possible that arrangements made using email or text message can cause misunderstandings and animosity, even unintentionally, so speaking face to face if that is a viable option is always better. Often if a couple can calmly discuss their proposals, it is possible to reach agreement without very much difficulty. Shentons offer Mediation Services and therefore should you require any further information about this process, please contact us on the contact details below.
- Try to avoid asking the child(ren) where they would like to spend Christmas as this can often place them in a difficult position if they feel they are being asked to choose between their parents.
- Do try to be flexible and take account of particular family arrangements and traditions when discussing proposals for contact arrangements.
- Remember that the Christmas period is also invaluable for children to get the opportunity to spend time with extended family on both sides and those valuable extended family relationships can sadly often suffer after a separation.
- If you cannot reach any agreement consider contacting an experienced Family Solicitor. They will be able to offer clear advice on the situation and are a third party who is not emotionally involved in the arrangements. They will be able to offer practical and realistic advice on proposals and a way forward. A Solicitor will often refer a client to Mediation in the hope of resolving issues quickly and amicably but it is also possible that initial correspondence between solicitors may also resolve the issue for all involved.
- If arrangements still cannot be agreed or resolved, an application to the Court can be made for a Child Arrangements Order which will set out a schedule for when the child will spend time with each parent, including over Christmas and other holiday periods throughout the year. These Court proceedings can be time consuming, expensive and stressful and really should only be used as a last resort or in particularly complex cases.
The key really is compromise. Try to be flexible and understand that both parents (and extended family) will want to spend time with the child during this festive period and try to find the best way to ensure this can happen, to keep everyone and importantly the children of the family happy.
If you do need advice about these issues or any other family matter relating to a breakdown of a relationship then please contact us on 01962 844 544. We would be happy to help.