Christmas contact arrangements
The festive period can be difficult for separated parents, and unless the contact arrangements for the children have been previously arranged, either through agreement or by Court Order, then you will need to try and make arrangements between yourselves. This is not always easy, so here are a few tips that may help.
The subject of Christmas contact needs to be approached as early as possible. If you are unable to reach agreement then, in the absence of attending successful mediation etc, you will need to make an application to the Court, and given the timescales involved in the safeguarding processes which take place before the first hearing, the very latest that such an application should be launched is, in reality, probably September.
- If possible you should aim to put yourself in the children’s shoes, and try to see the world from their prospective, always being aware of their needs. Where possible, and if age appropriate, you should involve the children in the discussions, and ask them for their views. In so doing you should make it clear that there may have to be compromises, for example, it may not be possible, or indeed practical for the children to see both parents on Christmas day.
- If you think that discussions about contact over Christmas are likely to end up with a heated exchange, then make sure that they take place well away from the children. It is imperative that the children are not embroiled in the dispute between parents, especially if that dispute relates to them, and it is important that children feel that they are being given permission to maintain a relationship with the other parent.
- You need to consider whether sharing Christmas day is appropriate. Younger children especially may benefit from an arrangement whereby one parent has them on Christmas day, and the other, say, Boxing day, and this arrangement is alternated the following year. This may be better than the children being disrupted mid-way through their day to be placed in the car and driven to the other parents’ home where festivities start all over again.
- You ought to consider whether any previously organised and routine contact will need to be modified in the run up to Christmas. The children may have Christmas parties to attend, or relatives to visit, and this may well impact on contact arrangements. Again it is important to reach agreement as early as possible, and to be flexible.
- There is no such thing as an ideal. Some people find that being flexible and being friends works well, for others they need the rigidity of a prescriptive Court Order that sets out the contact arrangements in detail. It is important however to create a positive atmosphere for the child, and the child needs to feel that they are given permission to enjoy spending time with the other parent. This may not be possible at the outset of separation, but it is something to work towards and as relationships change over time, your interaction with your newly separated partner will also change, hopefully for the better.
- Do not overlook contingency arrangements. What would happen if one parent becomes ill over Christmas and cannot have the children or bad weather sets in and the previously planned travel arrangements prove to be impossible, or at least very difficult? It is important that you each know how to contact the other, or a close relative, in the case of such an eventuality, and make sure that you have thought through what the contingency arrangements are if the unavoidable circumstances were to arise.
- If you manage to reach agreement then it is sensible to record this in writing be it either by text message, email, or by good old-fashioned fountain pen. This avoids any misunderstandings and depending on the ages of the children, it may be appropriate to ensure that they always know what is happening and when so that they do not need to worry about the arrangements.
For more information or assistance with contact arrangements over the Christmas period please contact Victoria Oerton or Graham Simm on 01823 259449.