Child arrangements: A guide for separated parents over the holidays

Christmas can be a tricky time for parents who are divorced or separated. Naturally both parents want to spend the holiday with their children, but there will usually need to be compromises. Here we share our tips to help the whole family to enjoy the festive season.

Agree child arrangements in advance

If parents can agree child arrangements in advance between themselves, that is ideal. However, what should those arrangements be?

Every family is different. Some parents live near to each other, and others live miles apart; some parents have an amicable relationship, but for others their relationship is strained.

Parents living a long way apart might decide that their children spend the whole Christmas period with one parent, alternating each year. Parents who live in the same area might plan for their children to spend Christmas morning with one parent, and Christmas afternoon with the other. Quite often, parents decide that their children will spend Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other, swapping the following year.

Where parents have split amicably, they may decide to spend Christmas together. This can work well for children, but there can be new partners to consider.

Visiting the wider family during Covid-19

When there was a lockdown, children of divorced or separated parents could still move between households. However, there were restrictions in place about seeing other family members. At the time of writing there are no plans for the government to reintroduce a lockdown for Christmas 2021, but things can change quickly.

Even without restrictions in place, you may want to talk to your ex-partner about what precautions you will both take over the Christmas period especially if cases are rising in your area.

What happens if you cannot agree child arrangements?

The first step is to seek family mediation. An impartial mediator can facilitate discussions between you and your ex-partner, helping you to reach a mutual agreement about child arrangements.

At QualitySolicitors we can put you in touch with a Law Society accredited family mediator in your area. Our mediators are highly skilled and experienced and can help you to resolve any arrangements relating to your children.

Legal Aid is still available for mediation, even though it has now been removed for most areas of family law.

Applying for a child arrangements order

If you cannot agree arrangements for your children following mediation, you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. In most cases you are only allowed to apply to the court if you have attended a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with an accredited family mediator.

A child arrangements order will set out who your children live with, who has contact with them and when they have contact. In deciding these matters the court prioritises children and considers what is best for them.

Normally the court will want children to spend as much time as feasible with each parent. However, for parents who live a long distance from each other this can mean hours of driving between homes each week. It is usually better for parents to come to an agreement themselves where they can.

An application for a child arrangements order can take time. By making your Christmas plans in advance you have more time to apply to the court if you need to do so.

Going abroad

You or your ex-partner might be considering taking your children abroad for Christmas, Covid-19 restrictions permitting.

The parent who wishes to take their children abroad needs to obtain written permission from the other person with parental responsibility. A mother automatically has parental responsibility, and a father usually has parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother or listed on the child’s birth certificate.

The exception to the rule is if there is a child arrangements order in place which states that the children live only with one parent. In this case, the parent with residency can take the children abroad for less than one month without the consent of the other parent.

Child abduction laws make it a criminal offence for a parent to take their children abroad without permission from the other parent or from the court as applicable.

Christmas presents

All parents love giving Christmas presents to their children, but it can be a minefield for divorced or separated parents.

Christmas should never be about currying favour with children by buying the most expensive gifts. If a child wants a gift one of you cannot afford then you could consider buying the present jointly.

The other issue for divorced or separated parents is present duplication which can lead to disappointment for children. Try to liaise with the other parent in good time to ensure you both know what you are buying.

It is likely that only one parent will get to see their children open presents on Christmas morning, but this does not need to be a problem. The other parent can give their family’s presents when they see the children. No child minds receiving presents over more than one day – it just makes the magic of Christmas last longer.

Surviving the compromise

If you are not spending Christmas Day with your children this year, you could consider making special plans for yourself. This might be visiting friends or family. It might be having well-needed quality time by yourself reading books, having relaxing baths and watching all those films you never have time to see.

Before Christmas you could make special plans with your children where you have an afternoon or a day enjoying each other’s company. This could be a trip to the cinema or their favourite café; it might be a games afternoon or a trip to the park.

Implementing positive changes is the way to make Christmas the best time for your children and for yourself.

How QualitySolicitors family lawyers can help

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree child arrangements for Christmas, our family lawyers can help you. We offer free initial advice with our Free Initial Assessment promise. You can talk to a friendly family solicitor, in confidence, who will answer any questions you have about your situation.

We also offer an ‘Ask the Legal Expert’ service – which is 45 minutes of advice for £99 – if you need to explore your options further. You have no obligation to use our full services after using this service.

Call us today on 08082747557 and we will arrange a Free Initial Assessment with a family solicitor local to you.


Posted in: Family Law

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