Can the Court decide who the children should spend Christmas with?
For many, the period up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year and being able to plan is essential to preparing for a happy holiday. This year in particular, it has never felt more important to be able to enjoy time with loved ones. Unfortunately, for separated parents this can also be one of the most difficult times for co-operation. Stress and tensions can be high, which leads to disputes over when and where the children should spend their time over Christmas.
During the course of this year, we have seen a number of enquiries related to contact arrangements during lockdown and the various levels of restrictions in place across the UK. Parents have had to be more flexible than ever before in their arrangements, as the rules can change at a moments notice. In addition, if a parent or child or member of their household exhibits symptoms of Coronavirus, or has been in contact with someone exhibiting symptoms, then they should not be delivering that child to the other parent and should temporarily halt contact if they are self-isolating.
When looking at arrangements over the Christmas period, it is always advisable to start the conversation early. Especially this year when parents may have different views on approach to risk and how many guests at Christmas will be an acceptable amount, the sooner you know where any disagreement lies the earlier you can look to find a solution that all parties can agree on.
It is important to note that it has been made clear by the Government that none of the restrictions in relation to Coronavirus should prevent children from moving between households of separated parents (except in cases of self-isolation). This has been specifically clarified when necessary. It should also be noted that the Courts and CAFCASS (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) have placed importance on children maintaining their usual routine as this is in their best interests. With all of the uncertainty that children are having to face this year, the stability of routine in how they spend time with each parent is of great benefit to children.
What should our arrangement look like?
Remember that there is no ‘best’ or ‘recommended’ arrangements for children over the Christmas period and that this is a personal arrangement for your family. Some parents will choose to divide the holidays so that children spend time with each parent on Christmas. For others, the children alternate the holidays between each parent. As the parents, you will be best placed to know what works for your children and, in the case of older children, they may have views of their own which you can take into account.
So what happens in the event that agreement isn’t possible? If you are at an impasse and cannot find any way to resolve the dispute, mediation can help as a structured approach to resolving the dispute. Often the presence of a third party can help focus the discussion on the issues at hand rather than personal disputes. A Mediator can help present matters form a different angle and offer solutions that may not have been considered previously. Many mediation services are still able to assist during the current restrictions and with video conferencing available, mediation is incredibly accessible.
The Court Route
If mediation is unable to resolve the dispute, Court proceedings can be issued. However, the Court has made clear that this is a last resort option for significant disputes. A Judge will not take kindly to being required to micro-manage arrangements for the children. It should also be borne in mind that the Courts are facing a significant caseload due to lockdowns and restrictions. A contested hearing may not be possible prior to Christmas and so all possible alternatives should be explored first.
If you have concerns about the arrangements for children over the festive period, please take advantage of our free initial consultation to discuss your circumstances with one of our family law experts.
Watson Thomas Solicitors have offices in Fleet, Guildford, Bracknell, Camberley, Farnborough and Woking.
Watson Thomas are a dedicated team of Family Lawyers who specialise in all types of family disputes. For advice about No-fault divorce or the other options, please do get in touch.
Our staff can work from home and access all systems so even if all are required to self-isolate this will not affect the day-to-day running of your case. We can also hold appointments via telephone and video conferencing, as needs be, to ensure that your service is not interrupted.
If you would like to discuss your current situation with an expert family lawyer, please call us on 0800 488 0218.