Christmas is certainly a magical time of year, but for separated families, it can be a difficult time to navigate through if contact arrangements for the children are not agreed.
Who will the children wake up with on Christmas morning? Whose house will they sleep at on Christmas Eve? Who will be with them on Boxing Day? What time will I pick them up/drop them off? Where will pickups/drop offs take place? There can be a lot of details to iron out and for some, it can feel overwhelming, especially if there isn’t open communication between the parents.
If there is already a Child Arrangements Order in place which stipulates who the children should be with and when over the festive period then this should be followed, otherwise the non-compliant parent will be in breach of a Court Order, which can have serious consequences.
What if I don’t have a Court Order?
In the absence of a Court Order or any direct agreement with the other parent, it can become a little tricky. The Family Court has made it clear that it is not there to micro-manage arrangements for the children and where possible, the parties should be sorting these things out themselves, leaving Court proceedings to a last resort. Mediation can be a very effective form of reaching an agreement with the other parent as the independent mediator will facilitate those, sometimes difficult, conversations between the parties.
However, if there isn’t an open dialogue there for communication either directly or through mediation or you and the other parent simply cannot see eye to eye on what the best arrangements would be for the child/children, this is where it may be time to take advice from a family lawyer and have them assist in negotiating an agreement on your behalf. This may help ease the tension by taking the animosity out of the situation, to help you reach a resolution in a more amicable and timely way and reach one that is in the best interests of the child/children.
What if the other parent won’t engage?
Ultimately there may be situations where the other parent just simply isn’t being reasonable and won’t engage in communications to agree anything, even if via a third party. In these circumstances it may be that a Court application is necessary, and this is something a family lawyer can also advise you on and assist you with.
An application can be made to Court to deal only with the arrangements for the Christmas and New Year period. If this is something you think you may need then you would need to contact a family lawyer as early as possible before Christmas as any delay to an application may risk the Court not having enough time to hear your application before the Christmas holidays. Should there be wider disagreements or concerns then an application could be made for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) generally to deal not only with the Christmas arrangements but also with the term time and other holiday arrangements.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order (CAO) is an order that regulates the arrangements for the child/children of the family that relate to any of the following:
- with whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact
- when the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person
Contact simply means the communication and time that a child enjoys with an adult. There are several ways that contact may take place:
- direct contact between the child and the person named in the order (known as a ‘spends time with’ order) or by telephone/Facetime;
- spending time overnight with one parent (often referred to as overnight contact);
- supervised contact; and
- indirect contact through letters or cards.
A CAO may specify the person with whom a child is to live, but not specifically where.
A CAO may provide for the child to live with one parent only or it may provide for the child to live with both parents.
An order that provides for a child to spend time with both parents does not necessarily mean the child’s time will be spent equally between their parents. It is more a reflection of the parents’ equal status as parents in the eyes of the Court. The child may still spend more time at one home than at the other and the CAO will usually say in detail how the child’s time is to be divided, including arrangements for special occasions, such as Christmas.
The Court’s paramount concern when deciding whether or not a CAO should be made and what the terms are, is the welfare of the child/children. The Court must presume when considering an application for a CAO, unless the contrary is shown, that the involvement of each parent in the life of the child concerned (of some direct or indirect kind) will further the child’s welfare.
Furley Page’s family law team has extensive experience advising on all child arrangement matters.
Please telephone 01227 763939 and speak to Josie Triffitt or a member of Furley Page family law team for assistance.