How should separated or divorced parents agree who has the children on Christmas Day? Sarah Evans of Coodes Solicitors’ Family Team gives her advice.
When a relationship breaks down, the most important thing for many couples to agree on is the arrangements for their children. Whether they agree it themselves, through mediation or through the court, many families agree arrangements with the children spending alternate weekends with each parent. Christmas is sometimes a special case where the usual routine does not apply. So, what is the fairest way of agreeing who the children spend time with on Christmas Day?
1. Aim for equality between both parents
When agreeing arrangements for children, the court will try and achieve an agreement regarding Christmas and will seek to achieve an equal split between both parents. This often means that the children spend Christmas Eve and half of Christmas Day with one parent, before moving over to the other parent for the rest of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Others prefer to alternate so that children spend Christmas Day with one parent one year and the other the following year. This may depend on where each parent lives and what is most practical.
2. Agree Christmas arrangements well in advance
December is too late to start discussing arrangements for the children at Christmas. We would always advise parents to start the conversation much earlier in the year. If you are going through a separation or divorce, make sure that you cover Christmas when you discuss arrangements for the children. Ideally you should agree long-term arrangements – for example, alternating Christmas Day – so that each of you knows where you stand and do not have to negotiate each year.
3. Get professional help early if you can’t agree on Christmas arrangements
If you and your ex-partner can’t agree on agreements for the children over Christmas it is important to get help as early as possible. Whether you use mediation, or go through the court, this will take time. Seeking help in December and hoping to get the issue resolved in time for Christmas is not always realistic.
If you do need to get professional help to agree your arrangements, there are a number of options:
A trained mediator will help guide you to an agreement or compromise. If have 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.
Negotiation through solicitors
If you or your ex-partner are not willing to engage in mediation or if mediation is not appropriate or successful, you could instruct a solicitor to assist you in negotiating arrangements.
Application to the Court
An application to the court should be a last resort where other attempts have failed.
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.
Christmas is a special time and many parents understandably have strong feelings about wanting to spend time with their children. It is important to put the children first and make sure they can spend quality time with both of you over the festive season.
For more information on this issue or advice on Family matters contact the Family Team on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01637 878111.