Christmas isn’t always about happy families

by Kevin Double

It is just a few weeks until Christmas, a very special time for children. However, the issue of where children should spend Christmas can lead to arguments between parents who have separated from one another. Where such issues arise, it is important to deal with the arrangements for Christmas contact as soon as possible.

The stress and expense that arise from court proceedings mean it is in all parties’ interests to reach an amicable agreement wherever possible. Parties should take into consideration each other’s plans and be prepared to be flexible. It may be sensible to draw up a schedule outlining the arrangements, including details of collections and drop offs. Like all things at Christmas, this should not be left to the last minute.

Where the parents are unable to agree arrangements between themselves, it may be possible to resolve matters via letters between solicitors, or through mediation. Mediation is now a compulsory measure before applying to the court.

Where the parents remain unable to reach an agreement it will be necessary to issue an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. The court will set a date for the parties to attend for a hearing, but that hearing will not necessarily result in an instant decision. If the parents are unable to negotiate arrangements outside the court room, the court may seek an independent report from Cafcass (the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).

Cafcass will speak to the parties, and the children if they are old enough, when preparing their report and any recommendations made by Cafcass will take into consideration various factors, focussing on the best interests of the children.

This can be a lengthy, as well as costly, process and where parents are unable to agree matters between them, it is important that an application is issued as soon as possible to avoid any upset over the festive period.