Making arrangements for your children during the holiday season can often cause a lot of conflict for separated families. Many parents want to spend time with their children on Christmas Day or over the holiday period given that this is conventionally a time for families to come together and celebrate. Some parents are able to make arrangements quite easily however; this is not the case for everyone.
Unless there is an Order from the Court which states otherwise, there is no definitive rule in respect of who and how a child(ren) should spend their time during the holiday season. There is an expectation from the Court for holidays to be shared fairly and for the child to spend quality time with both parents (so long as it is safe to do so). When making any decisions in respect of the upbringing of the child, the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration. A common approach between separated parents is for Christmas Day and New Years Day to be alternated between them each year or Christmas Day Morning with one parent and Christmas Day afternoon with the other parent again to be alternated – though this arrangement may not suit every child.
It is vital for parents to put their own needs, wishes and feelings aside and to prioritise what is in the best interests of the child. It is not fair to ask the children to make a decision as this would be placing them in a difficult position causing them unnecessary distress.
It is important for parents to have a discussion in plenty of time to come to an agreement about how the children should spend their time over the holiday season. It is better for both parents if they are able to come up with an agreement between themselves. This may mean compromising and having difficult conversations with your ex partner. However, it will make it easier for parents to plan early celebration and visits to the relatives so no-one feels they are missing out.
If you agree the arrangements both parents need to communicate this to the child. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and also sends a positive message to the child.
If you cannot agree:
If you envisage there to be a disagreement about Christmas please consult legal advice and assistance to allow sufficient time to resolve the matter. If it is not possible to reach agreement through a solicitor, GL would be able to make a referral to an independent mediator. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process. The trained mediator will meet with you and your partner separately first and then together. You would then have the opportunity to talk about what arrangements will be made. Mediation aims to focus on the future rather than the past – a clean slate for both parties and this would hopefully help focus minds on the children’s needs. Mediation is non confrontational, cheaper and a quicker option than making an application to the Court.
The festive period is an extremely busy time for the Courts and therefore they will only deal with urgent issues about the safety of a child. For that reason, if all other avenues have been explored and it becomes apparent that you will require the Court’s assistance in determining how the children will spend their time over the holiday season, an application should be filed with the court as soon as possible as they may not have availability to hear the matter before Friday 21 December 2018.
It is always better for parents to reach a decision between themselves as the risk of a court making the decision means that there is great uncertainty and the risk for both parents is that they may not get an outcome they want or that neither parent set out to achieve.
If you would like further advice and assistance on children matters please do not hesitate to contact our Family Team who specialise in Private Children Matters.