Making arrangements for your children over the Christmas holidays
With the school holidays fast approaching, separated parents will be considering arrangements for their children over the festive period.
This can be a stressful time of year for everyone, and the additional pressure of having to agree arrangements for children with your co-parent can heighten tensions.
We’ve put together our top tips on how to approach this in a constructive way so that everyone can enjoy the holidays.
Any arrangements should have the welfare of the children at their heart. It is important to try to put aside any differences and work together to find an arrangement that is in the children’s best interests. Reflect on how your children view the holidays and what their expectations are. How can their wishes, to the extent that they are realistic, appropriate and possible, be accommodated? It would be unfair to put a child in a pressured situation where they have to make a choice about the arrangements, and it is important to reassure them, even if the arrangements may not be exactly what they had imagined or if they are worried about the parent they will not be with.
- Comply with any existing court orders
If there are any existing court orders in place, these should be complied with. If you want to change the arrangements, then that’s fine if it is agreed by both parties – but the starting point in the absence of agreement will be the court order.
- Don’t leave it until the last minute
If you haven’t begun discussions about the arrangements, start now. It is not too late, but trying to work things out at the last minute will create more pressure for everyone at this busy time, and ongoing uncertainty about the arrangements can be distressing for children and prevent them from being able to look forward to the holidays. Starting discussions sooner rather than later will also give you more time to engage in a dispute resolution method should that be needed.
- Communication and compromise
Constructive and open communication is key, and listening is an important component of effective communication. Though not always easy, try to have an open mind during discussions, as this is likely to make it easier to reach a compromise without the need to involve solicitors.
If you reach an agreement, we recommend setting it out in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. You can email the other parent to confirm what has been agreed, and this will then be a record which can be referred back to.
- If you can’t reach agreement, consider mediation or arbitration rather than court proceedings
Mediation is a process in which a trained, impartial third party facilitates discussions with a view to helping you and your co-parent reach agreement. Mediation is a good option where you’re both open to compromise but would benefit from someone else structuring your discussions. The mediator cannot impose a solution, only help you both try to find one. It has the advantage of being quick and can be focused on a single issue such as Christmas arrangements.
Arbitration is a privatised version of the court process, where the parties jointly appoint an experienced family law barrister to take on the role of the judge; both parties’ positions will be considered and then a binding decision made. Given the current delays in the court service, arbitration is a particularly good option where you need a decision in a hurry; it’s also more flexible and more efficient.
A court application should be the last resort, but it may be the only option if the other parent is refusing to engage in discussions in a constructive way and will not agree to arbitration. It is usually possible to obtain an emergency hearing if required, but the sooner any necessary application is made, the better.
- Keep to what has been agreed or decided but be flexible if necessary
Once an agreement has been made, it’s important that it is kept to, so that the children’s holidays proceed as they expect, and to build trust between you and your co-parent.
However, sometimes unexpected events do require arrangements to change, and unfortunately, we still have the added uncertainty of COVID-19. We therefore advise parents to be prepared to be flexible with arrangements if that’s really needed, for example if the rules or restrictions were to change.
Today marks the end of Resolution’s Good Divorce Week. We recommend their guide to Parenting through Separation as useful reading for anyone finding themselves needing to resolve an issue about Christmas holiday arrangements.
Should you require assistance making arrangements for the children over the holidays, or would like to learn more about child arrangements, please contact Philippa Kum at firstname.lastname@example.org, or another member of our family team on 0207 412 0500.