Covid-19: Child Arrangements at Christmas
Tilly Bailey & Irvine Solicitors’ Family Law experts offer you advice to aid child arrangements during a second lockdown and the 2020 Christmas period.
The festive season is fast approaching and, in the wise words of Andy Williams, it is the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.
For most, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones. Unfortunately, many separated parents experience difficulties - particularly during the festive period - when it comes to determining the arrangements for the children. It is natural for both parents to wish to spend as much time as possible with the children over Christmas but parents must work together to avoid unnecessary conflict. As children grow, they become more receptive to their surroundings and it is, therefore, important that parents do cooperate with one another.
It is uncertain as to whether the recent lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will continue throughout December 2020. However, children are nevertheless permitted to continue to move between the homes of separated parents for the purpose of child arrangements.
When considering child arrangements for the Christmas period, parents may wish to follow the below guide to ensure that the festive season runs smoothly:
Communicate with one another
Communication is key to resolving any dispute. Communicating openly and effectively allows both parties to set out their proposals clearly. If the relationship between the parents has broken down to an extent that the parents do not feel they can communicate face-to-face, parents may wish to attempt indirect forms of communication such as text message or email. In either approach, parents should focus wholly on the issues of child arrangements and avoid introducing any unnecessary arguments if this is not conducive to finalising an arrangement;
Reach an agreement in advance
As with most aspects of life, planning is crucial. Christmas is a very busy time for families, often filled with family plans, trips to Santa and other festivities. Agreeing on child arrangements in advance of the festive period allows time for any potential disputes between the parents to be resolved at an early stage. A defined agreement allows parents the flexibility to make their respective holiday plans with the children and avoids future disappointment on both parts
When attempting to reach an agreement, parents should attempt to afford one another a degree of compromise. Reaching an agreement is far easier where parties are able to offer some form of flexibility to their proposals. Compromise helps to build an effective relationship between parents and it is likely that this compromise will be reciprocated by the other parent in future;
Wishes and feelings of the children
It is important to consider the views of the children, particularly those who are in their teens, when determining child arrangements. The best interests of the children should always be the top priority when determining arrangements and listening to the children can help gain an understanding of their own position. This is not to say that the children should have the final word on the matter, rather that their feelings should be considered in the decision-making process;
Be creative with contact
The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a degree of uncertainty for the festive period and it is still unknown as to whether the current lockdown will continue throughout December. As explained above, child arrangements should continue as agreed in the event that a further lockdown is required. Parents are required to act in accordance with the government guidance and contact should, therefore, be facilitated where it is safe to do so.
However, if one party is unexpectedly required to self-isolate or contact poses a risk to the children, contact should not continue as per the previous agreement until it is safe to do so. If this is the case, parents are encouraged to consider indirect contact such as Skype, Zoom or Facetime during the other parent’s period of isolation.
In the event that parents have exhausted all of the above and an agreement has not been reached, parents may wish to consider attending a local mediator to attempt to resolve the issues in dispute. If this fails, it may then be that the parents require court intervention and an application for a Child Arrangements Order is made. Parents should, however, be aware that issues such as Christmas disputes will not be prioritised by the court and it may well be that the case is not listed to be heard until 2021.
Co-operation, planning and compromise do work and for children, that is very much in their best interests.