Child contact over Christmas is a major issue facing divorced or separated families. On Christmas Eve, solicitor Charlotte Newman examined this emotional topic from the perspective of the children. In the second of a two-part series, solicitor Amy Foweather now explores the issue from the parents’ point of view.
Christmas can be a particularly tense time for parents who are separated and having to consider the arrangements for the children. This time of year often sees solicitors and the Courts dealing with a high volume of disputes. Of course, this is the last thing anyone wants to do at the best of time but it is especially true before Christmas.
A lot of parents have described themselves as feeling lonely, sad, angry and even jealous of the other parent around this time of year. It can feel like everyone else is enjoying a family Christmas whilst they are left out. This can inevitably create unwelcome tensions and disputes which only serve to make matters worse.
The ideal situation is whereby parents have discussed the Christmas arrangements in advance and are able to reach an agreement. By starting these discussions early, it also allows time for mediation which can help resolve any sticking points and still ensure a sensible agreement is reached in time. Parents can also instruct solicitors to advise and assist them to reach a long term agreement.
When both parents see the children throughout the year and have a good relationship, the starting point has to be that both parents should be able to enjoy this special time of year with the children. There is then no right or wrong answer as to what those arrangements should look like. Every family is different and there needs to be arrangements put in place which work for them. For example, some families have grandparents or relatives which live abroad and which makes the arrangements even more complicated.
Of course, it is not always possible to reach an agreement by consent. The Courts will regularly see one parent who feels that they shouldn’t have to share their time with the children. It is very difficult for some parents to accept that, for some of the time, the children should see the other parent. However it is the best interests of the children which should be prioritised and not what the parents necessarily want.
Prioritising the best interests of the children will be the courts main consideration, should an application become necessary. It is very unlikely that a Court will make the decision to prevent one parent seeing their children over Christmas. Obviously, we are not talking about cases where contact is already restricted due to safeguarding concerns.
Whilst any Judge or Magistrates will have a level of discretion regarding the arrangements, there are two main examples which time and time again we see implemented by the courts.
Example 1: Alternating days
Year 1: Mother spends Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day with the children (times to be agreed or court ordered) / Father spends time with the children Boxing Day overnight.
Year 2: Father spends Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day with the children (times to be agreed or ordered) / Mother spends time with the children Boxing Day overnight.
This arrangement works best and makes most sense when the parents do not live locally or one parent likes to visit family who are not local.
This option means that parents spend Christmas Day with the children every other year. In the other years, parents should still make the most of it. We even hear examples of parents creating a second Christmas day for the children and having a ‘fake Christmas.’
Example 2: Alternating times
Year 1: Mother spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the children up to 3pm (time to be agreed or ordered) / Father spends time with the Children from Christmas day over night.
Year 2: Father spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the children up to 3pm (time to be agreed or ordered) / Mother spends time with the Children from Christmas day over night.
Of course, there can be changes to the arrangements and which suit each family. However, it gives an example of how both parents could see the children on Christmas Day. This kind of arrangement is only really practical if the parents are local. The last thing the children want is to spend hours travelling on Christmas Day.
However, if parents will not get the chance to see their children on Christmas Day, they suggest can alternatives such as phone contact or, better still, Facetime or Skype.
Whatever arrangements are put in place, the time spent with both parents should be special. It should not be over shadowed by arguments and hostilities between the parents. Regardless of personal feelings and disputes, children should not be placed in the middle.
If you are experiencing difficulties agreeing the arrangements for your children over Christmas, please speak to a family law solicitor who can assist in trying to resolve matters in a friendly manner. If the other parent does not agree and you miss out this year, then take advice on seeking a court order in the New Year and to make sure it doesn’t happen next year or indeed ever again.