Christmas Contact – How separated parents can deal with disputes about arrangements
As we approach the festive season, as family lawyers we can see the strain that the Christmas arrangements for children can place on families with separated parents.
It is relatively common for one parent to feel ‘pushed out’ by the other and made to feel their time with the children over the Christmas period isn’t as important. Some parents feel they have no option but to agree to arrangements that are not fair or which do not provide them with quality time with their child or children as they do not know what options they have available.
We see more often than not that parents feel so weighed down by disputes over child arrangements they do not know where to start. This is heightened even more over the Christmas period which should be a time for both parents to share the excitement with their child(ren) and have quality family time together.
As family lawyers, we have to look at what the court would do in our clients’ specific cases and in their individual circumstances.
The court takes the view that children should spend quality time with both parents over Christmas. It is important to provide the child with the opportunity to experience time with both sides of the family, different traditions and to enable quality time with both parents. The court would adopt that position unless there are reasons why that is not in the child or children’s best interests, for example, if there are certain safeguarding concerns/risks with those arrangements.
To have one parent’s arrangements consistently preferred over the other is not in the child(ren’s) welfare interests. It increases animosity between parents, confuses a child’s routine and significantly, it is depriving the child their relationship and building traditions with the other parent and the extended family, particularly over the festive period.
Different arrangements may however work for different families – what works depend on the traditions of each family, their locality and most importantly, the needs of the individual child(ren). However, some ‘typical’ arrangements we see over the festive period are:
- Parents alternating Christmas Days/ Boxing Days each year;
- Alternating the entire Christmas period, so that one parent has Christmas Day/Boxing Day but the other parent New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. Then those arrangements are alternated each year.
- Dividing Christmas Day between the parents each year.
Children require stability and certainty of arrangements as they grow up. If you are worried about the present arrangements in place for your children or feel that they are not getting quality time with both of you, then there are steps that you can take to try and reach an agreement with the other parent in an amicable way.
- It is always best to try and keep communication open and if possible, you can discuss matters with the other parent directly. You could sit down and try to agree a Parenting Plan. A parenting plan may help guide you in terms of agreeing what contact arrangements are appropriate and how you will communicate together over important issues, such as health, welfare, education etc.
- You could attend mediation with the other parent. A mediator is an impartial person who will sit with you and explore any issues/ assist you in reaching an agreement. Again, a parenting plan could be completed within mediation and with the assistance of the mediator.
At Maguire Family Law we offer mediation services should that be an option for you. Our recent blog explored the benefits of mediation and how it can be an effective way of resolving disputes.
- In the event mediation is not appropriate, then, as family lawyers, we can outline your proposed arrangements to the other parent (for the Christmas period and more generally) in correspondence to try and reach an agreement. We can set out very clearly in a letter what your proposals are and try and reach an agreement with the other parent generally.
- If an agreement cannot be reached, then there is always the option to make an application to court. The appropriate application would be for a Child Arrangements Order to determine the time the children should spend with each parent. An application to court should be a last resort and only in the event that agreement cannot be reached by exploring the routes at paragraphs (1) – (3) above. It can however outline defined arrangements in a legally binding court order which may provide the certainty of arrangements that you and the children need.
If you require any advice about arrangements for children or any family law issue generally then please do not hesitate to contact Maguire Family Law on 01625 544 650 or email@example.com.
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