How to sort out contact arrangements over Christmas by John Bolch

Family|Family Law|December 17th 2013

Christmas and the New Year can be a boom time for family lawyers. Before Christmas, clients come to you to sort out their child contact arrangements over the holidays, over Christmas they seek protection from domestic violence and after Christmas they want a divorce.

If you think that all of that sounds somewhat cynical (coming, as it does, from someone who did this work for more than twenty-five years), you would be wrong. Unfortunately, it is all too true.

I’m afraid I can’t give you much advice about how to avoid domestic violence or the breakdown of your marriage, but I can at least give you a little last-minute advice to help you sort out child contact arrangements.

It never ceased to amaze me how much clients were prepared to spend on legal fees to get the contact that they wanted with their children over Christmas. All too often, though, emotions got in the way of common sense. For example, ask yourself whether it really matters to your children if they open all of their presents on Christmas day – many children are only too happy to celebrate Christmas twice, once with each parent.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how much time children should spend with each parent over the Christmas holidays, or as to how any dispute over arrangements should be resolved. The best single piece of advice I can give is be flexible – neither parent has a right to have the children with them on any particular day. So, for example, the parent with whom the children primarily live should not insist that just because of that fact, the children must stay with them on Christmas day as well. Instead, how about alternating Christmas Day and Boxing Day each year?

And one other thing: don’t try rushing off to the court at the last minute – the court will not usually consider Christmas contact arrangements to be sufficiently important to deal with your case as an emergency, no matter how much importance you attach to it. Accordingly, you won’t get your case heard until well into the New Year.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Tristan says:

    Good to see Fathers4Justice make hay at the expense of Kate Winslet with her “none of this 50:50” nonsense about raising children. People criticise the bloke behind F4J. I prefer to judge the ball not the man; I think he’s done a fantastic job squeezing maximum publicity for fathers’ rights out of whatever material he sees to hand such as with the hapless Winslet here along with her solicitors. He’s generated publicity by the bucket load.

    As for shared parenting, isn’t it about time the family justice system itself came clean on whether it truly supports the principle or not? Will the courts move with the times? Will they implement a policy of both parents raising their child or do they want to stick in the mud, Kate Winslet-style, with a contact-only father playing a subsidiary, ‘hands-off’ role? The courts went out of their way in framing a supposedly cohesive family justice policy on domestic violence; read their notorious Sturge Glaser report on DV, commissioned by and fully accepted into the system despite its glaring and vicious anti-father bias. So why not an enlightened policy re-think by the courts on the conceptual way forward for separated parents in dispute?

    Where’s the beef, boys? I’m sure child development experts of the calibre of Professor Michael Lamb of Cambridge University would be only too willing to provide the intellectual basis to assist courts in forming appropriate child-centered policy, fit for the times.

    Paging Sir James Munby, paging, paging . . . .

  2. Luke says:

    My understanding is that Kate Winslet said the following:
    “None of this 50/50 time with the mums and dads – my children live with me, that is it.”
    Sadly I agree with her – I say sadly because the father usually loses out – but the point is when divorce happens and the family is split up we are looking at damage limitation and somebody DOES lose out.

    As I think it is generally a REALLY bad idea for the kids to be bouncing back and forwards like a Ping-Pong ball on a 50:50 basis (I know that in certain very specific circumstances it can work) one parent needs to be the resident parent, and in the vast majority of cases I think that should be the mother.

    Where I have a real problem is the denial of contact for the non-resident parent – that is a national scandal.

  3. Tristan says:

    Who said it has to be ping pong? There is school time, long weekends which could run from collection after school on Friday until back to school on Monday and on top of that, long periods of holiday time particularly during summer. These distinct periods provide ample opportunity for an otherwise non-resident parent to play a hands-on role which effectively amount to a 50:50 division of time, give or take. The main thing is to really want it, have the competence to do it and then commit the time and effort to make it happen.

  4. Luke says:

    “Who said it has to be ping pong?”

    I do.

    In most circumstances from what I have seen it just doesn’t work, I wish it did. After something as traumatic as a divorce the one thing that children need is a firm base they can rely on. They need to get on with their lives with as little further upset as possible, not being forced from pillar to post between two often warring parents.

    The parents are the ones that have totally ‘bollixed’ the situation up, not the kids, and except for very unusual circumstances fitting the kids round the emotional needs of the parents is not on in my opinion.

    IF both parents are amicable and willing and having explained it to the children they both think that it is still best in their particular situation then it may be worth trying. It does, however, require total cooperation and agreement from both parties and let’s face it, that’s rare in a divorce.

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