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Christmas - A time of goodwill for all?

View profile for Andrew Robinson
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Andrew Robinson, Head of Family Law at Fishers Dewes Solicitors, considers issues that may arise during Christmastime around the care of children:

It’s not hard to work out that the stress, anxiety & anger that’s felt by many separated couples is likely to be heightened over Christmastime. Christmas tradition is that it’s a magical time for family and especially children. It can be daunting to face Christmas knowing your children are going through a turbulent time where family traditions may be changed. So how can you minimise the heartache and prioritise the children’s needs?

Be reasonable!

It may not be easy but the best approach is communication with the other parent. Mum and Dad normally share Parental Responsibility for their children.  This means there’s a legal expectation that parents will consult each other about major decisions impacting a child’s life and upbringing.  This includes care arrangements for a child generally, and those applicable at Christmas.  

Discussion and agreement is the best way of resolving such issues both for the parents, and for the child’s mental and physical health.

There will always be cases where direct discussion cannot happen for good reason (ie where there has been abuse or there is risk) but these cases are the exception rather than the norm.

Often, parents will not try this method because they find it emotionally difficult; but it’s worth persevering even in those cases for the sake of the children.

Mediate

If emotions are too raw to deal with matters direct, try mediation.  Family mediation is increasingly common and widely available to solve issues arising from separation. Mediation works by parents committing to attend a meeting or series of meetings with an independent third party who helps them have a structured discussion about the needs of their children.  If a way forward is found, the mediator helps the couple record their suggested arrangements in a Parenting Plan.

The mediator will only assist a couple. They make their own decisions. Both are likely to leave the mediation process happy that they have taken responsibility for their own affairs.   Mediation can also be cheaper and quicker to arrange than court, avoiding solicitors’ correspondence which can often inflame the situation.

Be brave

Whilst it’s in everybody’s interests to avoid conflict it’s important to recognise that this is not always possible.  If solving arrangements for the children over the Christmas period is not possible, it’s important not to let things fester as uncertainty will persist for the whole family over Christmastime.  Arrangements for the children to see both parents over the festive period is extremely important and is not something too trivial to detain the courts.  If all else fails, an application for a Child Arrangements Order can be made and courts will normally be accommodating to make sure a decision’s made before the Christmas shutdown.  

Conclusion

Don’t start thinking about Christmas arrangements as it comes into sharp focus in December. All options will take time so it’s important to act early.  

Whatever differences remain, remember that in most cases your children love both of you and want time with you equally.  They don’t want to witness conflict between you. As much as possible, try and put aside negative feelings so your children enjoy a happy Christmas.

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