Seeing your kids at Christmas…


Christmas is quickly approaching and we have experienced our first frost and the shops are starting to take on a more seasonal appearance. So by this time of year most of us start to think about the festive season and spending time with loved ones. One of the main issues we are faced with by our clients around this time of year, as family law specialists, is contact with children at Christmas.

Seeing Your Children at Christmas

For some Christmas and the holidays around the festive season can be difficult as they are estranged or separated from their families, particularly their children. Christmas contact between children and the non-resident parent can be contentious. It is after all, for most, a special time of year and one that people are often very fond of spending as much time with their children as possible.

Putting the best interests of your child(ren) first

So how do you start to decide an issue over Christmas contact? The answer is that there is no answer! Like many disputes involving children it is individual to the family. There should however, be, as always, a focus on the best interests of the children. Therefore, really the starting point is dictated by Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 and that the consideration of the children’s welfare should be the paramount consideration. It’s very easy to say but in this instance what does it mean?

Well it’s important that the children feel happy and stable, that if they are old enough that their wishes are attained so that they too can have a say. Most of all that it is a practical child focussed arrangement, not one to suit the needs of the parents. These are just examples of things to be considered, and is not an exhaustive list.

Are you at loggerheads?

But what if parents can’t agree? In that instance there is no agreed precedent for Christmas contact. Many adopt the alternate year basis, children alternating between parents each year. Some parents have an arrangement whereby the children stay with one parent until an agreed time on Christmas Day, i.e. 2.00pm, to then go to the other parent until Boxing Day evening, for example. However some parents aren’t able to have their children overnight for a range of reasons and in that case they may just see them for an agreed period on Christmas day or the surrounding holidays.

Really Christmas contact is an individual issue and one that it is worth trying to agree now for future years so that this special time is not overshadowed every year by the uncertainty of whether you will see your children.

Want to clarify the arrangements?

A family law solicitor can assist in guiding you through an agreement. It may be something that can be agreed in writing. Alternatively a lot of parents are assisted by mediation to agree narrow issues such as Christmas contact. Mediation is a service where by both parties meet with a trained mediator, that is an independent 3rd party, who assists them in trying to agree the issues. Alternatively if these options don’t assist then an application to Court under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 can be made to obtain a defined Contact Order which outlines the Christmas contact for the future. It is unusual to apply to Court just for a Contact Order for Christmas contact and it would therefore be usual for the Order to detail any other agreed contact in any Orders it felt suitable to make. However in realism a Contact Order is the last resort and contact should be able to be agreed before this point.

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