Separated Parents – what time should the children spend with each parent over Christmas?
Christmas can be a very difficult time of year for various reasons. Children of separated parents are, understandably, eager to spend time with both of their parents over the festive period and on the 'big' day but, logistically, this might not be possible, and compromises may have to be made. While the Christmas break may feel like some time away, making arrangements should start sooner rather than later. Sara Morton, a Senior Solicitor in the family team at Enoch Evans LLP shares her advice.
Why is it important to discuss Christmas plans with my ex-partner ahead of time?
Having an open and early conversation with the other parent about Christmas arrangements can prevent issues arising at the last minute and allow both parties time to consider what would be in the best interest of the children. Bookings for Christmas breaks or meals out are often made at the end of autumn (if not earlier) which, if delayed, may leave one parent disappointed or having to reluctantly change their own plans.
It may be that, if you cannot agree between you the best way for the children to spend time with both parents over the festive period, you might be able to do so with the help of a Mediator or Solicitor (who will then have a record of what has been agreed). Speaking with a solicitor in good time, when an issue arises, means that an application to the Court could be made and the issue determined.
What information should I provide to the other parent and do I need their consent to take my child or children away for Christmas?
If both parents have Parental Responsibility, they are entitled to receive information about any proposed holidays either abroad or in the UK. This includes dates of travel, flight details, accommodation and emergency contact information. This should be provided in advance of any holiday. If one parent is seeking to take the children away over the festive season, and there are no Court Orders already in place, the other party should also, strictly speaking, seek the consent of the other parent to the proposed holiday, in advance.
If there is a Court Order in place that the children 'live with' one of the parents, that parent can take the children out of the country for up to 28 days without requiring the other party's prior consent. However, the requirement to provide travel information remains, if the other parent has Parental Responsibility.
What happens if the other parent will not allow the children to spend time with me or come away with me on holiday over Christmas?
If you cannot agree the arrangements for the children or obtain the consent of the other parent to a proposed holiday, the parents could consider attending mediation to try and reach an agreement (if there is sufficient time to do so). It is always better to try and agree arrangements if you can. This is, however, reliant on both parties agreeing to attend mediation which may not be the case. Also, the mediation process can take some time, and may not be possible if the proposed holiday is fast approaching.
An application could also be made to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order or Specific Issue Order, to determine the arrangements for the festive period or for an Order that the children can attend a proposed holiday. The Court can also make Orders about the handover of the children's passports if the holiday is abroad. There are, however, risks involved with Court proceedings which can be expensive. Given the current backlog in the Court process it may mean that, even if an application is filed with the Court now, a Court hearing may not be listed until the New Year.
If an application is made to the Court, the Court's paramount consideration is the welfare of the children. It is unusual for a Court to determine that a holiday with either parent is not in a child's best interests, unless there are safeguarding concerns and it is often the case that Orders are made to ensure children are able to spend at least some time with both parents over Christmas.
When should I start planning for Christmas?
I would strongly recommend that discussions and an open dialogue between parents regarding Christmas starts early - now if possible. Establishing, in good time, whether there are any issues surrounding Christmas arrangement - for example, gift-giving or taking trips to see extended family - gives parents some time to try and resolve these issues, if they cannot be agreed. Court proceedings themselves can take time and it is therefore important to establish early whether an application to the Court may be required. Even then, there is no guarantee that any issues will be resolved in time for Christmas.
An Order confirming the arrangements for the children over Christmas can provide both parties and the children with clarity and avoid issues arising over what should be an enjoyable time of the year for all concerned.
If a client approaches us at the last minute, it is even more likely that the Court will not have the ability to consider an application prior to the Christmas break and difficult decisions or alterations or arrangements already in place, may have to be made.
For further information, contact Enoch Evans LLP on 01922 720333 (Walsall Office) or 0121 7252293 (Sutton Coldfield Office).