Christmas conflict or a season of goodwill?
We know that Christmas is not a happy time that everyone. Indeed it can be very lonely and depressing. Some parents are for various reasons unable to spend time with their children on the main days of the Christmas holiday or even at all.
Family disputes in the run-up to Christmas
In the run-up to Christmas we deal with a surge in cases where separated parents are in dispute over the arrangements through which children will spend time with each parent over the Christmas holiday. Here are some hopefully helpful thoughts.
Think about arrangements from a childs perspective
Children don’t want to see the adults around them arguing. Children want to enjoy everything that is going on. They will quite naturally want to see all of the important adults in their lives if possible. If they are taking part in a school play or similar performance children will normally want this to be watched by their important family members. Most importantly of all (again) children do not want to witness arguments; children wants to have fun and be happy.
Have realistic expectations of what the other will agree
If it has not been possible to agree arrangements for children to spend time with the adults who they do not live with during the year, then it is unlikely that there are going to be any significant changes agreed for the Christmas period. Equally, if the amount of time that the non-resident parent spends with their child is quite limited, then it is unlikely that it is going to be agreed that they can have loads ofadditional time over the Christmas holiday. Anyadditional time that can be agreed is likely to be along the lines of what is already taking place. Asking for more than is realistic will probably be counter-productive and will only lead to arguments.
Make use of other family members for handovers
If separated parents cannot get on with each other normally, then it is unrealistic to expect significant change over Christmas. Moving between one parent and another can be very stressful for children as well as for their parents. Sometimes the situation can be improved if a family member or friend can on a regular or even specific occasionassist with the move between one parent and the other.
Agree arrangements as far in advance as possible
The best time to discuss the arrangements for Christmas is in the spring of the year before. This allows ample time to undertake mediation. If agreements cannot be reached then an application would need to be made to the Court. Securing court time is not always easy and if there is a dispute over the Christmas arrangements, if an application is made to the court in the middle of December it is unlikely that the case will be able to get before a Judge in such a way that decisions can properly be made. The later a court application is left before Christmas, the less likely it is that a satisfactory outcome will be achieved
Record agreements in writing
Courts make decisions based upon evidence. If an agreement has been reached between parents and it can be proven that an agreement existed then the starting point of the Court is likely to be based upon making the parents keep to their agreements (unless there is a good reason for change)rather than starting completely from scratch
Don’t Forget Safety Issues
Some parents sadly do not see their children or have their time with their children restricted because there are issues about safety. Examples of this can be where there has been domestic abuse or even abusive or unsafe behaviour involving the children. Sometimes the parent with whom the child lives places the question of safety to one side in order to try to be nice to the other for Christmas or because they want to give their children what they think their children want. Risks are unlikely to diminish simply because it is Christmas and if a parent places themselves or their children in an unsafe situation then they could be unfortunate consequences both with some problem arising and also with the possibility that social services could become involved with the family because of concerns over a parents failure to protect.
Try family mediation
The best arrangements for children are ones where their parents are able to communicate well with each other and where both parents have confidence that the other will deliver their side of the agreement. The best arrangements are where parents are able to trust each other. Unless there is a significant safety issue the best way to achieve the best arrangements is through the parents talking to each other and finding a way to put past difficulties behind them. Mediation can be an excellent forum for achieving this. The starting point to a successful mediation is both parents accepting that there is a problem that needs to be resolved and both wishing to do something to resolve the problem.
Get good Legal advice
Where advice is required it is always a good idea to do this as soon as it becomes clear that the problem will not easily be solved. In our experience problems do not easily go away if nothing is done to try and solve them. Reasonable arrangements for children over the Christmas period often include Christmas Day being shared or children spending Christmas with one family one year and with another the next. However, all situations are different. Getting specific legal advice is usually a good idea.
We are a Firm of Solicitors specialising in family law and a mediation service that is based in Honiton in East Devon. We also have branch offices in Taunton. Our mediation service is contracted with the legal aid agency to offer legally aided mediation in Honiton Exeter and Taunton. If you qualify for legal aid for mediation then the mediation will be free of charge.We are members of the family solicitors organisation Resolution. Ian Walker is currently the elected chair of the Devon region Of Resolution