How should divorced or separated parents agree their contact with their children over the long summer holidays? Rebecca Moore of Coodes Solicitors’ Family team shares her tips.
Packing suitcases and stocking up on sun cream will be at the top of the to-do-list for many families as they prepare to take their children on holiday. If you are separated from your child’s other parent however, this time of year can be as much about avoiding arguments with your ex as it is about planning fun activities for you and your children.
The long summer holidays are usually a time when there is a departure from routine and a change to term time contact arrangements. Where there is to be a change from routine, there needs to be agreement between both parents and in some cases this can lead to conflict. So, how can you avoid this?
1. Plan arrangements for the summer holidays well in advance
For example, at the start of each year get a school calendar and agree dates for holidays. The sooner you start having discussions with your ex, the more time you will have to deal with any issues or concerns that arise, such as with the obtaining of consent (see below).
2. Talk to each other about your plans
If you are planning to take your children on holiday during the long break from school, let your ex-partner know. Whilst you do not need the consent of your ex-partner to take the children on holiday within England and Wales, it is common courtesy to keep them informed. Consent is required if you are planning a holiday abroad and if you are forthcoming with information about your trip, you are likely to meet less resistance when discussing arrangements.
3. Be flexible
School and work commitments make it easier to have a strict schedule during term time, but this can be more difficult during the longer holidays. If you are a working parent, you may only be entitled to take a set number of holidays a year and there may be restrictions on the duration and when these can be taken. This may impact on your ex-partner’s ability to have the children for extended periods or mean that they cannot fit that strict schedule. If you can be flexible about arrangements this will reduce any animosity between you. Bear in mind that it may be you who needs the flexibility another time.
4. Remember that it is all about the children
Depending on how you feel about your ex-partner, it can be difficult to put emotions to one side when discussing holiday arrangements. This is especially true if a new partner is attending or if the children will be away for longer than you are used to, such as two full weeks. In any discussions, ensure that you are putting your child’s best interests first and try not to allow your personal feelings to impact on the decisions you make. The summer holidays should be a fun time for your children and generally speaking they will benefit from quality time spent with both parents, whether that is going on an expensive holiday or playing at the local park.
5. Get your ex-partner’s consent on the arrangements
Whilst it is not illegal to take your children on holiday within England and Wales without the other parents’ consent, this is not the case when you are taking your children out of country. It is illegal to take your children out of the country without the consent of everyone who holds parental responsibility.
The sooner you discuss this with your ex-partner the more time you will have to discuss your arrangements and hopefully get their consent. It would be sensible when having those discussions to also agree what information the other parent needs, such as details of flights, hotel, emergency contact numbers and travel insurance, and when passports will be handed over, as well as arrangements for any immunisations, depending on where you are planning to go.
It is not advisable to book the holiday until the consent has been given in writing. This should then be taken with you to the airport to avoid any issues arising, especially if you have a different surname from your child. You will not be able to account to your ex-partner for the cost of the holiday if permission is withdrawn or you have booked the holiday without first obtaining consent.
If you have a Children Arrangements Order (previously called a ‘Residence Order’) confirming the children live with you, you are entitled to take your children out of the country for up to 28 days, and will not be breaking the law. However, in all circumstances consent should be obtained as a courtesy, and this will hopefully avoid future disagreements or a breakdown in your working relationship as parents.
What if you cannot agree?
If you and your ex-partner really cannot agree agreements for the children over the summer holidays or your ex-partner refuses to consent to a holiday outside of the UK, there are several options.
This is a process whereby you and your ex-partner meet with a trained mediator. The mediator will assist you in focusing your discussions on the main issue and guide you to an agreement or compromise. If you are on a limited income, legal aid may also be available. The length of the process will depend on the availability of the mediator and both parents’ willingness to enter into the process.
2. Negotiation through solicitors
If you or your ex-partner are not willing to engage in mediation or if mediation is not successful, you could instruct solicitors to assist in negotiating arrangements. This will incur costs and can be a lengthy process. The success of negotiations will depend largely on whether your ex-partner responds and engages with your solicitors.
3. Application to the Court
If no agreement can be reached through mediation or negotiation though solicitors, or if the matter is urgent, it will be necessary to make an application to the court to decide the outcome. When making decisions, the court will consider the children’s welfare and what is in the children’s best interest.
If the arrangements are in dispute, the court will decide what contact your children will have with each parent over the holiday period. This decision will be put into a court order and will be legally binding. The only way to change those arrangements will either be to agree between yourselves or refer the matter back to court to vary the order.
If consent is required to take your children out of the country, it is likely that the court will provide consent as long as the plans are reasonable and in the children’s best interest.
An application to the court should be a last resort and every attempt should have been made to reach an agreement with your ex-partner before being considered. Court proceedings can be costly and there are no guarantees that proceedings would be resolved before the summer holidays are over.
For advice on any of these issues, contact Rebecca Moore in the Family team at Coodes Solicitors on 01566 770000 or email@example.com