Festivities and families - Practical tips for separated parents at Christmas
12 December 2018
In this article Benjamin Pitman, a trainee solicitor, reflects on some practical tips for separated parents to help avoid any potential conflicts that may arise in the build up to Christmas.
Whilst the Festive period is a time for high spirits and merriment, it can unfortunately also be a period of great stress and conflict for parents who have recently separated or divorced, with disagreements ranging from, how much time should the children spend with each parent, to the appropriateness of involving a new partner in the Christmas festivities.
Here are some tips on how to best prevent any potential conflicts that may arise in the build up to Christmas:
Whilst we all strive for a 'perfect Christmas' unfortunately upon separation it is likely that both parents will have a very different idea as to what this means. One parent may have already made plans which make no allowances for the involvement of the other parent, or they may simply have arranged to travel to visit family living elsewhere.
Accordingly, last minute discussions should be avoided so as to reduce the risk of one parent being disappointed with the child arrangements at Christmas. It is recommended that parents communicate with each other as early as possible. Doing so enables both parents to understand what each other's expectations and hopes are in relation to what the best arrangements are for the children at Christmas.
Whilst in some extreme circumstances, such as where there is a safety or welfare concern for a child, the court may be able to hear an urgent application submitted near Christmas. However, for the majority of disputes, the family courts simply won't have time to hear the application before it closes for Christmas this year on 21 December 2018.
To illustrate this; in the fourth quarter of 2016, the Ministry of Justice recorded 11,000 private law applications in the family courts. Whilst most of these are unlikely to be dealing exclusively with child arrangements at Christmas, any application made to the family court by a parent seeking an order for Christmas will be competing with these other applications in the always busy court timetable. As such, parents are advised to sort Christmas arrangements as early in the year as possible.
Putting the child first
It is widely accepted by the courts that it is in a child's best interest for them to be able to enjoy the festive period with both parents. However, this comes with an expectation that both parents are child focused in what arrangements are made for Christmas. For example, it might not be in a child's best interest for them to have Christmas day interrupted by a long journey to the other parent's house or for a child to be separated from their siblings, with for instance, one parent having a child each for Christmas.
Every family will have their own individual circumstance, which means there is no 'one size fits all' approach for any child focused Christmas arrangements. Generally speaking, many parents find that some variation of alternating, one parent having the child Christmas Eve/Christmas day, with the other parent collecting the child on boxing day, a workable compromise.
Whatever the compromise, any decision that is made will need to put the child's best interests as the paramount consideration.
Considering the Details
Even where a child focused Christmas has been agreed upon early, it is still important to consider the details, so that any compromise achieved doesn’t break down.
Parents should not only be clear on what dates any handovers occur, but also the exact time and location. Parents ought to consider in advance who will be responsible for drop off and collection, whether the parties are content for the handover of the child to take place in an agreed middle ground, and whilst the parent who spends time with the child is entitled to make whatever arrangements they see fit, so long as it is in the child's best interest, it can help to avoid potential conflict to have these agreed in advance as well.
Benjamin Pitman sums up: So whilst there can often be different expectations in how separated parents view the ideal Christmas, these differences are rarely insurmountable. By following the practical tips I have laid out above, which can be summarised as, sort it early, sort it fairly and sort it thoroughly, it is possible to organise a Christmas that is enjoyable for all parties involved.