Christmas contact for separated families
Christmas can be a difficult time of year for families, especially those that are newly separated or those that can’t agree on arrangements for the children.
The courts won’t deal with Christmas as an “urgent issue” and therefore you will need to take steps now to deal with this if you aren’t able to reach an agreement.
The first step is to have a discussion with your ex and see if you are able to agree the arrangements. It is important to do this in a non-confrontational and conciliatory way. Perhaps writing your proposals down might help. Be flexible, and understand that your child is going to want to see both parents at this special time of year.
If you are unable to reach an agreement between yourselves then mediation is generally the next step. Trained mediators may be able to help you reach an agreement. You can have separate sessions, joint sessions or shuttle mediation- this is where you will be in separate rooms and the mediator will go back and forth between you and help you try to reach an agreement.
If mediation is unsuccessful then you will need to make an application to the Court in order for the Court to make a decision. It is always better to try and agree matters rather than have the Court decide but in some cases it is the only way to resolve the issue.
The law is contained in the Children Act 1989 and the court will consider the welfare checklist. In making a decision the Court will always consider what is best for the child. If the Court needs to make an Order defining the time spent with each parent this is now called a Child Arrangements Order. It is no longer referred to as access/custody or residence/contact.
There are some things the Court may consider when making a Child Arrangements Order:
Does the child still believe in Father Christmas?
If yes then the court might think it is best for the child to wake up in the home they normally live in. Otherwise, the child might worry Father Christmas won’t find them. As they grow older this won’t be an issue and arrangements can change accordingly.
Are there large distances involved?
The Court won’t usually think it’s a good idea for children to spend large parts of Christmas day travelling in the car. So if there are distances involved the Court is more likely to alternate years or if the child is still young and believes in Father Christmas look to split Christmas so the child travels on a different day.
What were the arrangements before you separated?
There are often family traditions and if for example you took turns to go to each of the grandparent’s houses for lunch then the Court may take this into consideration. This can either be done by alternating Christmas each year or for younger children alternating just the lunch time arrangements.
Should there be any contact with the other parent?
The child might worry about the parent they are not spending time with on Christmas day so a facetime call might be considered appropriate to ease any anxiety the child may have.
Christmas can be a stressful time for separated families and what might be right one year might need to change as the child grow older and their beliefs and needs change. It is important to be flexible and keep at the front of your mind what is best for your child.
At Battens our family team are able to help offer advice and assistance throughout the whole process. It might be you want initial advice only, or think a letter to your ex might help. If you are unable to agree arrangements we are able to draft the court paperwork and represent you in Court. Due to the pandemic, the courts have an increased case load and many hearings are now taking place by way of telephone or video call. Any application would need to be made without delay in order to have a hearing before Christmas.
View our family services here.