Advice For Separated Families During This Christmas Period
Christmas, like any festival or event, can be a difficult time for a separated family organising arrangements for children across two or more households. In the worst cases, trying to make these plans can lead to serious conflict. In his latest article, Kevan Hankinson offers some advice to those families who are trying to ensure a smooth and stress-free Christmas period.
Handling Christmas Arrangements
Doing what you can to build a sensible agreement around festivities is certain to help parents and more importantly the children themselves. It is a good idea to try and plan well in advance and communicate fairly and appropriately about the things that matter. It is surprising how often things which one parent assumes everyone knows (for example that that Grandma always comes around on Boxing Day to see the children) isn’t known and hasn’t been discussed and then causes a lot of last minute argument and difficulty.
Even with the best of intentions, a parent can find themselves making different plans and then getting very unhappy if those plans are disrupted by the other parent. Take the time to think about what you are going to do and how you are going to communicate it to the other person, bearing in mind that they too will have their priorities, which may be heartfelt, even if not the same as yours.
What Should Be Done If Disagreements Arise?
If there are going to be problems and you need assistance then there are options available like mediation or taking advice from a Solicitor but the closer you get to the big day, the more difficult it is to arrange those sorts of solutions. Courts are a last resort if a dispute cannot be resolved, but trying to get a resolution from court is unlikely to be realistic in the run up to the holiday period.
There are a number of resources available that will enable you to come up with a parenting plan, for example from CAFCASS (https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/parent-carer-or-family-member/my-family-involved-private-law-proceedings/resources-help-you-make-arrangements-are-your-childs-best-interests/how-parenting-plan-can-help ) and you can tailor that specifically to the Christmas period.
You may have to appreciate that even if you see yourself as the main organiser of the children’s lives there will have to be some give and take and you may have to think about what is particularly critical and important.
A point that is often discussed in court when the issue of festivals and holidays arise, is that it is sometimes the adults more than the children who get hung up upon particular days. Whilst the parents may consider it to be absolutely critical to spend time with a child on the 25th December and that no other date will do, for the children having two or more Christmases in any given week is actually really good news, and they may be less concerned about the number on the calendar.
Similarly, people can find themselves going to extraordinary lengths and travelling long hours simply to ensure that they have a few hours with a child on any given day when actually they could have had a whole day or more with some flexibility, in a far less fraught set of circumstances.
For some, there will always be the “magic” of waking up with the children on the day itself. Whilst courts tailor every outcome to the individual children and families in question, it is fair to say that if no other solution can be found courts expect parents to take their turn with these moments. It can be complicated especially where there is an extended family or children from other relationships involved in the arrangements.
In an ideal world you would be able to pull out a calendar, have a friendly discussion with the other parent, there will be some give and take from both and an arrangement can be put in place. The children themselves may have some say in the matter but if the parents are able to present a united front that will probably make things more constructive.
Dealing With Conflicts
If you are starting to have conversations around the holidays now and it is clear that storm clouds are gathering, consider that it is probably not going to achieve a great deal to have an angry argument and that children are extremely quick to pick up on tensions between parents. Pulling back from a conflict and dealing with it at arm’s length through a mediator or a solicitor may be a better option.
As ever, social media gives the opportunity for disputes to continue endlessly and even into the early hours of the morning. Try to keep communication civil and to avoid expressing opinions or allowing the discussion to drift into wider issues although that can be very difficult particularly if the separation is quite recent and emotions are high.
A solicitor can often provide practical help that has been of use to other parents, and make sure you understand the options after a confidential discussion, which can improve your chances of negotiating an agreement.
If there are no concerns around abuse, then mediation is an excellent way to have a difficult conversation with your ex-partner about how all these different arrangements are going to fit together, but again time is running out if an arrangement like that is going to be made.
Bear in mind that mediation and legal advice can both be useful – speaking to a solicitor in confidence about your worries and concerns, and understanding the legal framework, can helpfully inform a mediation and increase your chances of success.
If things are falling apart it can be extremely difficult but mediators, solicitors and if necessary the court will be available in the New Year to iron out whatever went wrong and hopefully prevent it from ever happening again. Don’t get angry, get help. As upsetting as arrangements around the holidays can be it is important to be able to maintain relationships long term and not just over the Christmas period. Confrontation is easy to fall into even with good intentions, but one bad incident can lead to lasting harm.
Sadly for some parents there are serious worries about how a dispute about holiday arrangements will affect or worsen existing worries about the safety of the parent or the child. Abuse can be obvious or sometimes more hidden. Holiday periods are well known to be a difficult time for many families, with greater risk of harm. If you feel at immediate risk, you should contact the Police. A solicitor can offer advice on protections, like non-molestation orders, and discuss with you how to deal with any parenting problems safely.
Butcher & Barlow LLP
If you are anticipating difficulties then getting good advice early is key. We understand that Christmas is a special time, and is important to get right – especially after the troublesome year we have had. If you would like some more advice, or would like to find out more about how we could help you during this holiday period, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your local firm.