18th December 2020
As the countdown to Christmas quickly approaches, Family Lawyers often receive panicked phone calls from separated or divorced parents concerning their child arrangements.
Sometimes calls come from parents who have separated earlier in the year and are having trouble reaching agreement on how time with the children should be divided for their first Christmas apart. At other times separated parents have run into issues over contact due to conflicts, disagreements or changes in circumstances.
2020 has become more complicated by the restrictions that are in place for coronavirus along with the general sense of apprehension around households mixing this festive period.
Our expert Family Lawyers share some of the frequently asked questions they have been asked this December…
What happens at Christmas varies from family to family. There is not an automatic legal right to see your children on Christmas Day, however it is generally accepted that both parents will want to spend some time with their children over the Christmas period. Arrangements should be made with former partners, ideally within plenty of time. If a resolution cannot be found then the family courts may decide upon an arrangement order which covers Christmas, however, they much prefer for matters to be dealt with outside of the court.
It would be wonderful for both parents to spend equal amounts of quality time with children over the festive period, but it is not law. As a general ‘rule’, arrangements should be ‘fair and reasonable’ and always with the children’s best interests at the forefront. There is not a legal obligation for time to be split equally and every family has their own arrangements that suit them. Some families will split Christmas Day in half, spending the morning with one parent and the evening with the other, others will have ‘two Christmas days’ and some families even come together for the day to share time with the children under one roof. Work commitments, distance, family traditions, beliefs and health concerns should all be considered when making Christmas arrangements that work for everyone.
Throughout the various lockdown measures, children of separated parents have been able to move between households for the purposes of contact with their other parent, unless one of the households is in quarantine due to a confirmed case or close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19. Even if parents live in different towns or cities, they are able to move between the two households.
As per the latest government guidelines, between 23rd and 27th December you can form an exclusive ‘Christmas Bubble’ composed of people from no more than three households. This allows for families to meet up with parents, grandparents etc. to celebrate Christmas.
Children (under-18) whose parents do not live together can be part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles, allowing them to see more family from both sides. Of course, it is still sensible to practise good handwashing and social distancing where possible if your child will be exposed to multiple households.
Where both parents live in higher risk tiers or in different tiers altogether, it is still possible to travel for the purpose of child contact. Between 23rd and 27th December the rules are relaxed further allowing up to 3 households to mix within an exclusive ‘Christmas Bubble’. Parents should keep themselves up to date with any changes in guidance to be aware of any travel restrictions.
A child arrangement order is a court ordered document which sets out where a child lives, when they must spend time with each of their parents and any other special arrangements agreed upon in court. They still apply during lockdown restrictions, although, given the difficulties created by covid-19 some commitments may be trickier to fulfil. The senior family law judge issued some guidance earlier in the year stating that parents should attempt to maintain normality with their routines but be sensible, flexible and agreeable in light of the challenging circumstances. The pandemic should not be used as a tool to restrict or reduce contact for separated parents who are not on civil terms.
Being threatened or stopped from seeing your children can be heart-breaking, especially over the Christmas period. It is important to approach these situations very carefully in order to get the desired outcome. Some questions to ask yourself initially include: Why are you are being denied contact? Is there a valid reason? Is there a court order in place? Is there a way you can compromise and resolve this? Do you need to take legal action?
It is important for both parents to realise that 2020 has been a testing year for everyone, including children, many of whom have missed weeks of school and have had limited contact with their family and friends this year. Christmas is a magical time for children and a chance for them to get together with family members. Conflicts and confusion can dampen the Christmas spirit for young children and they should be protected from any disputes that parents may have.
Planning ahead is always advised when it comes to making family arrangements over the Christmas period. But finding yourself in a dispute leading up to the big day can be incredibly stressful.
If you need help resolving disagreements, please do get in touch with our Family Law Team who can explain the next steps. Call us on 01256 844888, email email@example.com or speak to our online chat assistant on the website at any time of day. Our Family Law Team will be contactable over the festive period, aside from the public holidays, our lawyers are working in between Christmas and New Year if you find yourself needing urgent advice.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
Lamb Brooks LLP
Victoria House 39 Winchester Street Basingstoke Hampshire RG21 7EQ
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