Xmas arrangements for separated parents
By Ceri Thomas
Managing Child Contact this Christmas
Christmas is a magical time for children. Traditionally it is a much more stressful time for parents. When parents live separately agreeing the arrangements for children to spend time with both parents and their extended families over the Christmas period can increase tensions further.
Agreeing Christmas contact arrangements can be difficult, even without the additional pressure of Christmas. However, there are things that you can do to try and reach an agreement more easily.
As with all things relating to Christmas preparation is the key. The sooner you can begin to discuss Christmas contact arrangements the more opportunity you will have to properly consider what is best for your child and to reflect upon the other parent’s proposal. If you can’t reach an agreement between you, you will still have plenty of time to seek external support from a mediator, a Solicitor or even the Court if necessary.
- Stay amicable.
Do not dismiss proposals without proper consideration. Make sure that your communication remains polite and respectful. You both want what is best for your child. The advantage of early discussions is that there is less pressure to make urgent decisions and you both have the chance to reflect on the proposals of the other parent.Try to make sure that your discussion takes place somewhere neutral, perhaps a coffee shop or local park, without the children being present. Be prepared to compromise; your child can’t be in two places at once. Perhaps you could consider alternating where your child wakes up on Christmas morning each year?
- Do not focus on “the big day”.
As the song goes, “there are 12 days of Christmas”. Whilst the commercial focus of Christmas is 25th December, Christmas contact does not need to be; younger children in particular will love the prospect of two (or more) visits from Santa. This can be particularly important if it is impractical, perhaps due to geography or reliance on public transport, for your child to spend time with both of you on Christmas Day. Think about alternating Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
- Think about your child.
The law requires the welfare of the child to be the paramount consideration when determining any question in relation to a child’s upbringing. This should be at the forefront of your mind too. Think about what your child will want; they love both of their parents and will want to spend time with both of them. By all means talk to your child about what they’d like to happen but do not make them choose; you are the parents and must decide.Your children need your blessing to enjoy the Christmas contact arrangements you have agreed; could you make sure they have a small gift for the other parent, would you consider inviting the other parent into your home for a mince pie during handover? These small gestures will send a powerful message to your child.
- Stick to the plan.
Whilst flexibility is often important when dealing with contact arrangements, it is vital that you limit the changes to your carefully agreed plans during the festive period. The extended time off work and the chance to catch up with extended family can often mean that activities over the Christmas break are planned with military precision. Even a small delay in collecting or returning your child can impact heavily on the plans of the other parent. This can increase tension at handover and may cause upset to your child who is excited for the next activity.
- Try to avoid Court.
Assuming there are no safety or welfare concerns, the Court should be the last resort. It is far better for parents to reach a compromise they can both live with than have a decision imposed upon them; inevitably no one will leave Court happy in these circumstances.Unless a Court application is made in good time there is also a risk that your application will not be considered by the Court before the Christmas period. Whilst arrangements for children over Christmas are important they will not be considered by the Court to justify an emergency hearing.
After the Christmas decorations are away and the last of the sales have finished, try to reflect on how the Christmas contact arrangements worked. What went well? What could be done in a better way to improve the Christmas contact arrangements for next year? In an ideal world you will be able to agree arrangements which will work for many years to come. This can be difficult to keep at the forefront of your mind at such an important time of year, but you can also use this time to consider and, if necessary, discuss the arrangements for other important celebrations; such as birthdays, mother’s and father’s day etc.
The Family Law Team at KBL Solicitors LLP have considerable experience in such situations. We offer sympathetic advice, always ensuring that your child’s welfare is the focus. Visit our website for more information www.kbl.co.uk.
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