The Christmas period is a time of year where disputes about where and how the children spend their time often arise. It is a special time of year for families and agreeing the children’s movements can be difficult.
If a dispute arises and you ask the Court to resolve this (as a last resort), they will always look at what is in the children’s best interests. Unless the children would be at risk with a parent, the Court’s view will be to ensure the child/children have a good and meaningful relationship with both parents. It is therefore useful to ensure that you approach your discussions with their other parent from the point of view of the child/children rather than what you want.
Generally the most common arrangements are for Christmases to be alternated or for Christmas Day itself to be split (for example: one parent has Christmas Eve into Christmas morning and the other has the afternoon of Christmas Day into Boxing Day). Often the arrangements depend on what works best for the individual family/families; How close do you live to each other? What about the extended family members and where they live? Where will you be spending Christmas? The arrangements can therefore be tailored to individual families but the focus will always be what is in the best interests of the children.
This year has, of course, been a strange and difficult year where families have had to adapt to new ways. However, the guidance has been clear throughout, you should not use COVID as an excuse to prevent contact taking place with the other parent. If you have a Court Order in place, this should be followed and whether or not you have an order in place, you must not stop contact because of COVID unless there is a genuine need to isolate.
You may have to self-isolate at one time or another due to having symptoms or if you are contacted by test and trace. Should one household (including children) have to self-isolate you will have to stay at home except for certain reasons (e.g. to seek medical care). Maintaining contact with the other parent is not an exemption to the self-isolation rules and it is likely that the Court would view self-isolation as a reasonable excuse if contact has been stopped. However, you should offer alternative contact during this time e.g. FaceTime, telephone, text etc. There must be a genuine need for you to self-isolate for this to apply.
The COVID rules are being relaxed between the 23-27 December and you will be able to form a bubble of three households over this period. The households will be able to meet indoors. You cannot be part of two “Christmas bubbles” and must only meet anyone else in accordance with the rules of the tier that you are in. However, children (under the age of 18) with separated parents can be a part of both of their parents’ bubbles and move between the two bubbles throughout the Christmas period.
Children over 18 are not exempt from these arrangements and will need to be a part of one bubble only.
What if I can’t agree the arrangements?
You should try to agree the arrangements as soon as possible, if you have not already done so, however, if you are not be able to agree we would recommend that you try mediation or the collaborative process rather than making a Court application. The Court will require you to have considered mediation before you make an application (unless an exemption applies) in any event. Both the mediation and collaborative processes are led by you as the parents. Mediation would mean that you have an independent mediator running the sessions and helping guide you to a solution and you can have your own lawyers advising you outside of those sessions. Collaborative law means that you have your own lawyers in the sessions and you work together, “around the table” (this can happen virtually) to try and reach an agreement with the guidance of your solicitors.
If have not reached an agreement after considering the above steps then you can make a Court application to ask the Court to decide the arrangements. Should you be considering making an application to deal with the arrangements for this Christmas, you must make it soon to allow the Court time to hear your matter. The Courts are busy at this time of year and whilst they are still operating, most hearings are remote at this time. There is a real risk that you will be too late to get an urgent hearing prior to Christmas. Another process to consider is arbitration. If there is deadlock between you and your ex please contact us as a matter of urgency and we can consider the best way to try and help you to reach a resolution.
- Remain child focussed at all times;
- Don’t use COVID as an excuse to suspend/stop contact (unless self-isolating when alternative contact should be offered), this will not be looked on favourably by the Court should your dispute end up in Court;
- Try to finalise your arrangements as early as possible.
If you wish to discuss you matter with one of team please do not hesitate to contact the Family team.
The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP