Child contact arrangements
Christmas can be an emotionally charged time of year. This is particularly the case for divorced parents. Arranging how children will spend Christmas with each parent after separation or divorce can easily become contentious. All too often, breakdowns in communication lead to conflict and isolation over the festive period.
There needs to be a firm agreement by each partner as to when and how they will see their children across the Christmas period. Many parents will have looked at this issue prior to separating, perhaps drawing up formal child arrangements that include details of how key dates such as birthdays, holidays and Christmas will be spent.
In many cases, this won’t be the case. What rights do parents have at Christmas, and how can this potentially difficult issue be best negotiated?
What rights do separated parents have to see their children at Christmas?
There is no specific law in place that determines how parents will share out access to their children over Christmas or other special occasions. While both parents have equal rights, it will usually be the primary caregiver who will ultimately decide where the child will be spending Christmas.
In most cases, where it’s practical, the caregiver will usually agree that it’s right for the child to see the other parent over Christmas. Whether this includes Christmas Day itself, Boxing Day or the New Year period will need to be negotiated.
What can I do if the other parent is refusing to allow me to see my children over Christmas?
If a caregiver repeatedly refuses to allow the other parent access to their children over Christmas, then it may be possible to secure a court order. Due to the stress and complexities involved this should always be a last resort.
How can we avoid conflict over Christmas contact arrangements?
If you are currently separating and are able to discuss childcare and access arrangements, then it’s important to include special occasions in your negotiations. In many instances, parents will decide that their children will take it in turns to spend Christmas with each parent.
Others may decide that it’s more convenient for one parent to spend Christmas Day each year with the children, and perhaps New Year with the other parent. Some may choose to alternate Christmas Day and Boxing Day with their children.
If you did not discuss special occasion arrangements when you agreed contact arrangements, it’s important to open up channels of communication as early as possible. If you find this difficult, then your legal representative may be able to help.
In nearly all cases, agreements without the need for legal intervention will be preferable, but sometimes this is unavoidable.
Can a parent take a child on holiday over the Christmas period?
If you live in England and Wales, and the children are not being taken outside of that legal jurisdiction, parents are able to take their children on holiday over the Christmas period. Even if someone in the South of England wishes to travel to the North East with their children, this is allowed. If they want to take the children outside of England and Wales, including the rest of the UK, then they are required to obtain permission from the other legally recognised parent.
If a child arrangement order is in place that states one partner is the parent whom the children must live with, they have the right to take the children abroad for up to 28 days without the need for permission from the other parent. To prevent conflict and misunderstanding it’s highly advisable that parents should communicate their Christmas plans as early as possible before taking children on holiday.
Can a parent prevent the other parent from seeing their children over Christmas?
The grounds on which a court may agree that a parent is able to prevent the other parent from seeing their children over Christmas are all based on safety and wellbeing issues. This might include abusive behaviour, drug or alcohol misuse, criminal activity, or another safety risk that a parent may present to the children.
A court would be unlikely to prevent child contact due to issues such as failure to pay child maintenance, previous disinterest in the life of the child or a personal dispute between the parents.
If a parent believes they have a justifiable reason for denying access to the children over Christmas or that they are being unfairly denied access they should seek legal advice as early as possible.
For further advice and support about child arrangements, disputes, and conflict resolution, contact Mandla Bhomra
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Making arrangements for children following a separation can be an emotionally charged and difficult time for both parents and children involved.
Child arrangements orders can help parents to reach a child-focussed arrangement where a mediation has not reached a conclusion.
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