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Family Law: Child Arrangements for Christmas

[lead]Christmas can be a joyous time to spend with family. However, planning for children over Christmas with an ex-partner can be quite challenging.[/lead]

At Oliver & Co, we have a dedicated team that can assist you in making arrangements for your children over the festive period as transparent and straightforward as possible.

If you do not currently have clear arrangements for how your child/children’s time is to be divided between you over the Christmas period, now is the time to consult solicitors, to ensure that there can be discussions and hopefully a concluded agreement between you in advance of the Christmas holidays.

 

How can I make arrangements for the children over Christmas with my ex?

By Agreement

Child Arrangements do not need to be formalised by the court and you do not have to involve solicitors to reach agreement about where children live after a separation, when they spend time with each parent, or what they do for Christmas.  Arrangements can simply be agreed and implemented between parents, amicably.

So that everyone is clear about the arrangements, you may want to consider writing a parenting plan.

A parenting plan is an informal agreement setting out in writing arrangements for children and does not need to be formalised by the court. A parenting plan is not legally binding but is evidence of the very clear commitment between the parents and helps everyone to know what the plan is.

You can work together to draw up a parenting plan. Sometimes a focussed agreement can be arrived at just by sitting down face to face however we appreciate that sometimes help is required from a third party. We can recommend local experienced mediators to assist you to reach decisions and we can also provide legal support and advice to you during the mediation journey. We can also help you by drawing up a consent order for approval by the court, on the occasions where it is felt beneficial for one to be in place.

Mediation

A mediator is independent from the parents and does not give advice (as a Solicitor would) or tell parents what they should do (as a Judge might).  The aim of the mediator is to help the two people to work together to make their own decisions. Mediation is voluntary, confidential (subject to some specific exceptions) and takes place in an environment where both parties can feel safe to explore pressing issues, as well as options in general, to ensure that any resolution is tailor made for the parents. It also puts children at the heart of all decisions.

If an agreement is reached in mediation as to Christmas (and/or other matters concerning the children), it will not be a legally binding agreement, but is a way to provide clarity to the arrangements and is hopefully something that both parents are happy with and will implement between them, as they have agreed it between them. Once again, we can draw up a consent order for the court to consider, incorporating all terms reached at mediation, if the parents agree it is appropriate.

Court Application

Sometimes mediation does not/ cannot work for example if one person is not willing to attend or domestic abuse has featured in the relationship. If it is not possible to agree arrangements for Christmas with your ex-partner (or wider matters concerning the children), then you may have to apply for a Court Order.

There are three main types of Court Order that can be applied for, concerning arrangements for a child or children at Christmas.  Please note that, before making an application to Court for an Order you will have to attend mediation, unless an exemption applies.

Specific Issue Order

This Order dictates what parents should do about a specific matter regarding the children, which is not agreed. This could be regarding Christmas arrangements, medical treatment, holidays, or school selection.

Prohibited Steps Order

This prohibits a person from exercising their Parental Responsibility for a child. Having Parental Responsibility means that you acquire both rights and responsibilities for children.  This extends from daily decisions about a child’s routine such as what they wear or eat, to greater decisions such as whether they have medical treatment, which school they should attend, what religion they should follow and everything in between.

A Prohibited Steps Order could for example, prevent a parent from bringing a child into contact with someone, or taking them out of the country (for Christmas or otherwise).

Child Arrangements Order

A Child Arrangements Order is an order that sets outs who a child is to live with and when they should spend time or have contact with another person. Each Child Arrangements Order is decided on the circumstances of the family in question and what is in the best interests of each child.

If parents are having general difficulties in agreeing arrangements for a child, including but not limited to Christmas arrangements, then this application can look not only at Christmas plans, but plans throughout the year, including other holiday periods.

What if we agree to depart from the arrangements made between us, or in mediation, or as set out in a Court Order?

Please remember that if both parents clearly agree any changes, there is no problem in departing from the original agreement, even if there is a Court Order in place. Children’s lives will go in a variety of different directions, just as their parents’ lives will. Please be aware though, that those changes are not legally binding and if you do have a Court Order, you will technically be breaching it if you depart from its terms without first formally varying it. This is unlikely to be problematic if you both agree the changes. Courts are supportive of parents agreeing amendments to orders between them such as extra contact and/or flexibility for child arrangements outside of the terms of an Order and it is far better for parents to micromanage their children’s lives than asking a court to do so, as parents tend to have a clear insight and understanding of their children’s needs and requirements.

Want further assistance?

As well as being on hand to provide you with legal advice and take any necessary legal action, often on short notice, our Family Law team are also able to provide you with handouts after consultation to assist you in making child focussed decisions.

If you have any questions regarding child arrangements, then contact us on 01244 312306, or law@oliverandco.co.uk, to book a FREE 15-minute consultation with one of our Family Solicitors, who can provide further information.

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