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Preparing for Christmas with your children after you separate
- AuthorNameeta Gujral
At this time of year, we often are contacted by separated or co-parenting families with questions around Christmas contact arrangements.
Generally speaking, separated parents agree Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are “ring fenced” and dealt with separately to the rest of the holiday period.
It is up to you how Christmas is divided. The most common scenarios are:
- Alternate Christmas Day with the children each year, so both parents get the chance to experience the magic of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning.
- Share Christmas Day with a handover after lunch or late afternoon if you live close to one another.
- Divide the holidays so one parent has one week with Christmas and the other has New Year and this could alternate each year.
By making arrangements between yourselves, you can ensure they are suitable for your children and manageable for both parents.
Top Tips for sorting out contact arrangements over the Christmas period
1. Plan early
You should plan as early as possible with whom the children will spend Christmas Day with, as well as the arrangements for the festive period generally. Be prepared to be flexible and, if necessary, reach a compromise so that the best interests of the children are always put first.
2. Keep a channel of communication open
Communication is key and parents should try to keep a dialogue open so that arrangements can be agreed as soon early as possible. For many families, this Christmas may be the first they have spent apart, making communication even more challenging. Try to do what works best for you and your family, whether that is direct discussions face-to-face or discussions over the phone, by video call, text message or email. Be honest and open in your discussions.
3. Be aware of the Covid-19 rules and isolation requirements
It is hoped that Christmas this year will be very different to the one last year. Whilst the rules arising from the pandemic have been lifted this may well change. Families should ensure they keep up to date with the restrictions imposed by the government and guidance issued as a result of Covid-19.
Agree contingency plans in light of Covid-19. Think about what should happen if you, the other parent, or child becomes unwell, including the risk of contracting the coronavirus or having to self-isolate.
4. Listen to your children
Always put the best interests of your children first when sorting out the arrangements. Reassure them and try to consider the contact arrangements from their perspective. Try to remain positive and encouraging when you talk to them about the arrangements, and recognise that this may be a very difficult time for them, especially if it is the first Christmas after separation.
Do not make them choose between either parent; as it is unfair to ask children to decide where they would like to spend their Christmas holidays. It places them in an unnecessarily difficult position which is likely to cause upset.
7. Travelling abroad at Christmas
For some separated families there is an international element to consider. Parents wishing to travel abroad with their children over the festive period will have several additional things to think about.
Firstly, they must obtain the agreement of the other parent with parental responsibility to take the child abroad. If this consent is not given, a court order granting you permission to travel will be required.
Secondly, if permission is given, ensure you provide the other parent with full details of the trip including the dates, flight, travel, location, accommodation, and communication details including emergency contact details. Think about how the child will keep in contact with the other parent such as by telephone or video call and agree how to deal with the handover and return of passports.
If travel is permitted, you must also ensure all Covid-19 rules and precautions are followed, including checking the risk factors of the area you will be staying in and any places you plan to visit. Consider the Covid-19 risks of travelling and whether any quarantine and testing is necessary. Research the safety precautions and discuss this openly and in good time with the other parent.
6. What to do if you cannot agree
We recognise that it is not always possible to reach an agreement and it may be necessary to consider other options as a means of resolving the arrangements.
If you cannot reach an agreement, then seek the advice of a family solicitor as soon as possible. There are many ways in which separated parents can resolve the arrangements for their children, including solicitor correspondence and/or negotiation, mediation and collaborative law.
If the above do not result in an agreement; separated parents can make an application to the court. Court proceedings should only be considered as a last resort. Proceedings can be costly and are likely to make a stressful situation become even more stressful.
Due to the significant backlogs at court, which have worsened considerably as a result of the pandemic, it is unlikely, unless in exceptional circumstances requiring an urgent hearing, that the court will be able to hear your case before Christmas. You should therefore explore all other avenues of alternative dispute resolution.
If you need any advice on the issues raised in this article, please do get in touch. We offer a 45 minute telephone appointment for £99 to discuss your situation and to see how we can help. I am based in our Sittingbourne office but we can offer appointments in all offices or remotely via telephone call or Zoom, whichever is your preference.
Getting in touch, you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01474 546013 and speak with our team today.