As we enter Autumn and the country begins to brace itself for the colder weather, inevitably for a large proportion, thoughts will be turning to the winter break and Christmas and New Year Celebrations.
For those who are living in separated families, Christmas and New Year can often be a stressful time and bring challenges, such as trying to negotiate or decide where your children will spend the festivities, and with whom. In previous years, this may well have been a very fraught experience. This could be the first year that you are having to consider these issues. The discussions around important holidays and dates are inevitably difficult and emotionally charged. Both parents and wider family wish to spend time with their children on these occasions.
Of course, this year there is the added complexity of Covid-19. We are all acutely aware of the turmoil which corona virus has caused for the world, our country and our day to day lives. We are likely to be feeling the impact of the pandemic for a considerable period of time, either directly or indirectly. One such effect is the tightening and changing of restrictions as to how we go about our daily lives, which is likely to continue and increase over the winter months as it becomes more difficult to remain outdoors to socialise, and inevitably infection rates soar as we fight the usual colds and flu.
Many parents will be worrying already around their plans with their children for Christmas, which is entirely understandable. The advice initially coming from the government in March was confusing for parents living separately and undoubtedly corona virus and the mixed messages will have had an impact on some parents contact with their children. So how best to resolve the issue of Christmas?
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, contact between parents and children when living in separated households should continue as normal. Of course, there are some specific exceptions to this, such as if the child or the parent has corona virus or the symptoms of this, but common sense very much needs to be applied here.
If you already have an agreement in place for the Christmas and New Year period then there is no reason why that should be changed. If, for example, your child normally would spend Christmas Eve into Christmas Day morning at your property, going to the other parents in the afternoon, then that arrangement should still persist. Remember to plan ahead for any problems or unexpected eventuality and keep lines of communication open.
If you normally go to your ex partners property on Christmas day morning, then this will be more problematic as currently households cannot meet indoors. Similarly, if you live in a different country from your children, this could also result in difficulties this year due to travel restrictions and isolation requirements. Start the discussions now, with a view to having another plan in place to make the day run as smoothly as possible. Don’t leave your planning or contingency plans to the last minute. Manage your children’s expectations appropriately, and given that they will likely have an awareness of the “strangeness” of this year, they may be far more flexible or understanding than you would think if the status quo isn’t able to happen.
If you have recently separated, or if this is the first Christmas where you will need to make arrangements for spending time with your children at Christmas, start planning now. Try to enter into discussions with your ex-spouse or partner. Be as reasonable as you can be – while it is entirely understandable that both parents wish to spend time with their children on Christmas day, bear in mind what a busy and over stimulating day it can be for children, particularly very young children. Think about what is in your child’s best interest over Christmas. Would it be more fun or worthwhile for your child to spend a full day with you on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day rather than trying to split the day? Consider travelling time and how this can impact on arrangements. Can you agree an alternate year structure where one parent has Christmas day with the children and vice versa? Remember that your child will likely still want to speak with and see the other parent in some form on the day – facilitate video or phone calls and be as flexible as possible. Try to take into account your children’s wishes as well.
If you cannot reach agreement, and there is no offer (or reasonable offer) of time with your child over the Christmas period, you need to consider taking legal advice without delay. These are the types of issues where people tend to dig their heels in and delaying in taking advice may prevent you having time as you would like over the Christmas and New Year period. In some circumstances, it might be necessary to raise court proceedings, and the courts tend to become very busy in November and December in relation to Christmas and New Year arrangements. This year, with the current court backlog, will be no exception.
If you wish to discuss any concerns you may have around spending time with your children this festive period, then please contact our Danielle Stevenson for an initial discussion: 01383 431 101 or email: Danielle@caritaslegal.co.uk