Christmas is a joyful time for many, spent with our nearest and dearest and for children whose parents are separated, this can mean dividing their time between two different homes.
Sue Andrews, family partner at B P Collins says that if both parents can put their child first and plan ahead to agree what time their children will spend with each parent over the holidays, this should avoid bitter disputes. Otherwise, arguments are likely to have a detrimental effect on the child at a time which should be happy and fun. While there is no standard solution for every separated couple, Sue offers advice on how an amicable agreement can be reached.
It is important that separated parents communicate with one another as much as possible, although this can be difficult if separation or divorce has taken place recently, and emotions are still quite raw. Communicating through email is therefore an option – provided each response is measured and not sent when feeling angry. If you do receive a message which upsets you, always take time before responding. Before pressing “send,” stop and think about the words used and how it might be read. It often helps to try to put yourself in the shoes of your former partner, as an email worded in one way might provide momentary satisfaction, do you really want the unpleasantness of vitriolic communications?. Always think about what is best for your child.
In my many years as a family lawyer, the best advice a High Court judge gave to parents, who had been locked in an acrimonious battle for years about the arrangements for their children – was to sit down and have a cup of tea together. This may seem obvious, but often difficulties blocking an agreement, arise out of fear or a total misunderstanding, so face to face communication can help overcome that. It will also have the added benefit of the children being able to see their parents talking together, which will enable them to feel more relaxed and comfortable about their parents’ relationship.
It is important to start planning as early as possible, as preparations for the festive period can be stressful without this additional issue. If an agreement is reached well in advance, you’ll not have to worry about where your child will be and when. This will also allow enough time to seek legal advice if necessary.
It’s important that once arrangements have been agreed, both parents should stick to them. Your child will have consistency and stability knowing where they’ll be and also demonstrates that you respect their time with their other parent.
What if you can’t reach an agreement?
- A family lawyer will provide advice about what a judge is likely to decide in your circumstances. Also, based upon their experience with other families, a family lawyer will also suggest possibilities you might not have thought about and explore other options to reach an agreement. They can also communicate with the other party on your behalf to help record an agreement in writing.
- You could use a mediator, who could help you to facilitate an agreement. Many mediators are still having face to face meetings, however, if further COVID restrictions are imposed, then meetings could take place using a digital platform.
- Involving the courts should always be the last resort. But if you are unable to reach an agreement, you can apply to the court to determine arrangements for the children. It’s important to remember that the later the application is lodged, the less likely the court will have capacity to hear the matter before the Christmas holidays. This is another reason to start that conversation as early as possible.
If you are a separated parent who would like further advice regarding child arrangements, please get in touch with Sue Andrews on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01753 279046.