Top tips for Christmas contact arrangements

Posted: Tuesday November 10 2020

By: Rachel Roberts

Its fair to say that 2020 has been a year that we would probably all prefer to forget, and I think most of us are hoping that the current lockdown will come to an end before Christmas, to enable us to spend some much needed time with our loved ones.

Top tips for Christmas contact arrangements

Even without the additional stress that Covid has created, Christmas is often a time of tension for separated parents and family lawyers usually see a flurry of clients getting in touch for help to try and resolve arrangements. This year, we have seen an  increased number of enquiries on children matters, arising as a consequence of the pandemic, both from newly separated parents and parents that have been separated for some time but have struggled to agree how to manage the impact of the pandemic.

Before I turn to my top tips, there are a couple of key points that are certainly at the forefront of my mind when advising clients, but which should also be considered by parents:

  • In September, a leading family Judge made it clear that parties should only be bringing disputes over children to court where absolutely necessary, and criticised parents for asking the court to micro manage children arrangements. The view from the court is clear – where possible you should be sorting these things out yourself.
  • It is too early to tell what if any lockdown restrictions will be in place at Christmas. However, to date, the government has been clear that none of the restrictions prevent children moving between separated parents, provided they are not self-isolating. It seems unlikely that this will change, and CAFCASS (the government body that advises the court on children dispute) has stressed the need for children to maintain their usual routine.

All that said, it is naive to think that difficulties will not arise, and the following tips may help avoid unhappiness at Christmas:

  1. Plan ahead

Try to put in place your arrangements for Christmas well in advance. Ideally you would already have done so, but if not, now is the right time to start looking at this.

  1. Focus on the children

If this is your first year separated, on top of a year that has been very difficult and unsettling for children, try to put yourself in your child’s/children shoes. For some children, that may mean that the best thing is to have two Christmas Days, one with each of you e.g. Christmas Day and Boxing Day. For others, if you live close enough to the other parent, it may be feasible for you to split Christmas Day.

  1. Consider asking the children what they want

This obviously depends on the age of your children, and you should also consider whether they are telling you what they really want, or what they want they think you want to hear. Older children however need to feel they have a voice.

  1. Be fair to the other parent too.

Where your separation is new and feels raw, this can be really difficult to do but likely both of you will find it equally hard to have a first Christmas not spending it fully with your child(ren). Most families tend to alternate Christmas arrangements each year, particularly so the children will take it in turns to wake up on Christmas Day with each parent. So even if you are struggling to think of the impact on your former partner this year, consider whether you would be happy next year to have the arrangements that you are proposing for them this year.

  1. Stick to the arrangements

This applies to all arrangements for children generally, but Christmas is such an emotive time that failing to do so is likely to lead to a lack of trust and derail future communications.

 

  1. Take early advice

If you really are struggling, take advice from a family lawyer who can try to assist in negotiating an agreement. If you cannot reach agreement, a referral to mediation can help as the presence of a 3rd party who is independent can often ease tensions and result in finding common ground. Mediation is still taking place via video conferencing and many of my clients have reported preferring that to being in the same room as their former partner.

As above, court proceedings are a last resort. The later you leave it, the less likely it is that a court will have availability to hear an application. Given the current strain on courts arising from the pandemic, it is already highly unlikely that you have any prospect of a contested hearing before Christmas. All the more reason to reach a compromise where possible.

Of course, I recognise any form of compromise takes effort from both sides, but hopefully the above tips will assist in moving towards a harmonious Christmas.

# Top tips for Christmas contact arrangements

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# Top tips for Christmas contact arrangements