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Don’t forget the children’s contact arrangements over Christmas

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You might think it is way too early for me to be talking about a Christmas rush, but bear with me. After all, there are already Christmas cards in my local flower shop and I saw a festive advert on television the other day, so it won’t be long until it really gathers pace.

The real Christmas rush that family lawyers can often find themselves wrapped up in has more to do with holiday contact arrangements for children than last-minute shopping, traffic jams and supermarket queues. Hopefully, most parents who have separated will be able to discuss the Christmas plans with their former partner sensibly and in plenty of time. It means they are not suddenly caught out when school finishes on a Wednesday afternoon and the kids have two weeks without lessons. They know who is going where and when. In some cases though, this dialogue is just not possible.
Christmas can be highly emotionally charged. For some, it can be the last straw in a crumbling relationship. For those who have split, it can be a chance to use contact with the children as a weapon. I was speaking to someone recently who, as soon as they mentioned Christmas contact to their former partner, was told that their normal contact arrangements had been working well for the last eight months so they should stick with that and it wasn’t possible for them to see the children at Christmas. Most couples will find a way to work round it. It is a time for goodwill after all. Commonly, one year the children will be with mum on Christmas Day, and the next they will be with dad. However, if an ex is being obstructive on this, there are three options you can consider:

  1. Write a letter now to your former partner (assuming you cannot speak to them directly) and set out your proposals for contact over the Christmas period. If you can, suggest specific times for collection and return and don’t forget to include New Year arrangements as well. Allow them time to consider the matter and get back to you. Just because they have not replied instantly does not mean contact cannot be sorted. On the other hand, don’t leave it to the last minute to chase up. If you contact a family solicitor the week before Christmas demanding the court sort it out with an order, it is simply not going to happen. A letter from a solicitor instead is sometimes taken more seriously but beware, it can be inflammatory too.
  2. If you don’t think a letter will help, consider family mediation. This can work even if you have already separated. You will communicate directly with a former partner with a trained mediator present to assist you and help guide you towards a mutual agreement. Obviously, both parties have to attend and be prepared to negotiate, but it is a preferred option for many as it can be relatively quick and cost effective if you just can’t sort it out on your own.
  3. Court proceedings should always be a last resort. They are time consuming and costly and you can never have a 100% guarantee that you will get exactly what you want. As you may expect, you need a bit of time to go down this road. This is the time of year the court is starting to receive applications from parents to deal specifically with Christmas contact.

Christmas should be about the children and it is normal now for many to split time between mum and dad. Hopefully the spirit of goodwill will prevail. If not, it is never too early to start thinking about your options rather than leaving everything to the last minute.

Andrew Woolley
Family Law Solicitors

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