Christmas is traditionally a time for families to come together and celebrate – but it can be heart-breaking for separated parents and their children.
Contact arrangements during the festive season can often be the cause of a lot of conflict in separated families and with the discovery of the new Omicron variant and the general continued problems posed by Covid-19, parents may want to avoid their children mixing with a variety of households. Even when there has been a previous Court order which specifies contact arrangements for separated parents, often that order will not address what is to happen over the Christmas and New Year period.
One of the most frequently asked questions we deal with at Nelsons is whether children should spend one week with their mum and the other with their dad, or if arrangements should be made day-to-day.
There is sadly no magic formula. All days over the holiday period can have their own significance, which could be hard for any parent to miss out on. To resolve these matters, every family will have its own individual needs to address and there are a number of things you can do to make this easier.
Christmas contact arrangements for separated parents
1. Remain aware of the threats posed by Covid-19
Unless restrictions are enforced by the Government, families are permitted to make their own arrangements. However, in certain instances, such as where a child or the parent with whom the child does not live has to self-isolate or has tested positive for Covid-19, then contact arrangements may not take place. This will all depend on what restrictions are in place, the terms of any Court order and personal circumstances.
According to the NHS, if you live with or have been in contact with someone who may have the Omicron variant then you still need to self-isolate regardless of whether you’re fully vaccinated. If in doubt check the guidance.
2. Communicate without emotive language
Many separated parents find it difficult or uncomfortable to discuss arrangements for their children, especially at Christmas, which is undoubtedly a busy and stressful period. This may be even harder with the stress of the pandemic and the new variant.
We recommend trying to focus on the issue at hand. Communicate via e-mail or a parenting app if face-to-face conversations are difficult. This will give you the opportunity to remove any emotive language and focus on the issues that need to be resolved.
3. Plan well beforehand
Due to the pandemic, it will be difficult to keep everyone happy at Christmas, especially as it may still not be safe for children to see grandparents and/or other extended family members. This will be at the discretion of the parent, there are currently no laws to say children can’t see grandparents or extended family members but with cases increasing and the new variant spreading, parents may be reluctant to go ahead.
You will need to be flexible if arrangements suddenly have to be changed. In such circumstances, the parent with who the child lives should ensure that video or phone calls take place.
Safety has to come first and parents should work together to come to amicable contact arrangements for their children.
4. Focus on the future
If you are newly separated, it may be a daunting thought not waking up with your children on Christmas day. Try not to think about this year but think about the Christmas contact arrangements moving forward.
If your children are young then there are going to be plenty of Christmases for you to enjoy with them. It may be worth considering proposing that the children have the opportunity to wake up with each of their parents on alternating years.
5. Think about the children
It is important you focus on the impact of any contact arrangements on your children during the festive period. This is the approach the Court will adopt and many family lawyers will encourage their client to consider this first and foremost when making arrangements.
If you live close together then it may be practical for the day to be shared, so the children have the experience of celebrating with both parents. However, this should be done with Covid-19 considerations in mind.
6. Do not ask your child to decide
It is not fair to expect the children to be the decision-makers by asking who they would prefer to spend their Christmas holidays with. You may think asking them is the fairest way but it places them under unnecessary pressure.
However, this is not to say, that you shouldn’t talk to your children and listen to their concerns. Try to reassure them and consider the contact arrangements from their point of view.
7. Stick to the timings agreed
Time is an important factor during Christmas and can be a catalyst for arguments if not respected. Ensure you turn up on time so the children move from one parent to the other without having to wait around. Try to agree well in advance on who should be responsible for drop-off and collection.
Always be mindful that due to the pandemic, your children may be required to isolate. Therefore, you should remain flexible and amicable with your former spouse regarding Christmas contact arrangements.
Finally, be prepared to compromise. Divorce and separation regularly causes reasonable, sensible people to behave in a way that is out of character. Compromise allows you to both have ownership of the arrangements and is far more likely to be better for your children.
What if you can’t agree on Christmas contact arrangements?
If parents cannot agree on what happens then the first suggestion would be to attempt mediation in the hope that with the assistance of an independent mediator, you can agree on contact arrangements.
Should mediation fail there is an option to go to Court to make the necessary applications, usually for a child arrangements order to spend time with the children, or perhaps to vary an existing Court order.
A good family law solicitor will encourage you to put the needs of the children first. Unless there are welfare issues, the children should be spending quality time with both parents.
To ensure that disappointment is avoided, we encourage that arrangements be provided for as soon as possible. If Court applications are required, separated parents will need to note that the pandemic has created a substantial backlog of family law cases. So depending on when the application is first made, there may not be enough time for your case to be heard at Court. The best advice is to see the Court as a last resort and reach an agreement if at all possible.
How Nelsons can help
At Nelsons, we have a dedicated team of experts who are able to give specialist advice and representation. If you need advice on child contact or any other family law-related matters, please contact Melanie or another member of the team in Derby, Nottingham or Leicester on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.
Melanie or the team will be happy to discuss your circumstances in more detail and give you more information about the services that our family law team can provide along with details of our hourly rates and fixed fee services.Contact Us