Advice for separated parents on child contact at Christmas
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Making child contact arrangements over the festive period can be a complicated and stressful time for separated parents, which is why it’s a good idea to seek legal advice in advance.
We speak to Mary-Ann Wanjiku, a solicitor from The Family Law Company in Exeter, who answers some of your most commonly asked questions about child contact and how you can reach a mutual agreement that is in the best interests of your child.
Q: Why does Christmas cause problems for child contact arrangements?
A: Christmas is a special time of year when families come together. However, for parents who are separated, it can cause disagreements about how much time they will each spend with their child or children. Most people start to think about child contact arrangements for Christmas around late November or December, at which point it is too late to go to family mediation or court if they cannot reach an agreement. Family courts are extremely busy at this time of year, which has been exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Q: How can I see my child without going to court?
A: Separated parents should try to decide on child contact between themselves first. Going to court should always be a last resort. It is best to maintain civil communication with each other and to always act in the best interests of the child. In most cases, parents are able to agree on child arrangements, but if they cannot reach a mutual decision, or they are not able to engage with one another, then they may need to seek legal advice.
Q: How does mediation work with children?
A: If parents cannot agree on child arrangements, they can try family mediation. The aim of mediation is to resolve disputes amicably by taking emotions out of the situation. Usually, both parents sit down with an independent qualified mediator who will help them communicate with each other and make decisions about their child. Anyone who wants to resolve child contact disputes is required to try mediation before making an application for a court order, unless the specific exemptions such as domestic abuse apply.
Q: When is it necessary to go to court?
A: If mediation is unsuccessful or inappropriate due to the relevant exemptions, parents may need to apply for a Child Arrangements Order. The court order will make it clear who will have contact with the child and for how long, which is legally binding. Parents can apply for a court order themselves, but it is worth consulting a solicitor as they will have knowledge and experience of the process and can help to ease stress and allay concerns.
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Q: How much contact can I have with my child?
A: The amount of contact will need to be agreed by both parents and should take into account the best interests of the child. This could mean staying with one parent for Christmas day and going to the other for the rest of the holiday period. Christmas can be a tricky time as both parents may want to spend time with their children, which is why an agreement should be reached in advance.
Q: On what grounds can I stop contact?
A: Contact should only be prevented when it is deemed necessary to protect the child – for example, if there is a risk of significant harm. Otherwise, having both parents involved is generally considered to be best for the child.
Q: What advice do you have for separated parents making contact arrangements for Christmas?
A: If you think that child contact over Christmas is going to be a problem, seek advice from a family law solicitor as early as possible. Discussing arrangements in advance gives families the time to compromise and work around plans and expectations – last-minute decisions can make what is already a busy time of year even more stressful. The aim is to find an amicable agreement and to put your children first. Remember that Christmas comes every year – if you do not get your wishes this time around you may be able to make plans that suit you next year.
Having an agreement in advance also enables parents to make plans without having to worry about disagreements. This also makes sure that the child is not exposed to any adult issues that may arise as a result of any disagreements.
If you need advice about child contact arrangements, contact the Family Law Company by emailing email@example.com or calling 01392421777.