Top 10 family law queries this Christmas


- Credit: Archant

Christmas can be one of the happiest times of the year for families but the build-up to the festivities can be stressful for separated parents and those that may be struggling to keep the peace over the holidays.

Over 100,000 children are involved in divorces each year so many parents will be facing Christmas apart for the first time. Hopefully by sharing this list of common pitfalls and some advice on how to avoid problems it may help some families to enjoy what could potentially be a troubling festive season.


How does the fact that Christmas is midweek affect my contact rights?

Although you may have a contact order stating that you look after your child during the weekdays, you will need to check if it has any special stipulations in regards to holidays. Usually at Christmas both parents will want some involvement and it is best to agree beforehand how you are going to manage contact. It’s important to think about handovers and who is staying where as it can be complex depending on time off work etc... It might work to have a handover during Christmas Day, or if you live further away it may work better to alternate each year. Whatever you decide, the child needs to come first in every discussion.


Should I let my children contact their other parent on Christmas Day?

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With the advances in technology over the past decade, video calls and social media have made it much easier for people to stay in touch. In most cases it is probably appropriate for them to make a call to their other parent if you have agreed that your child will stay with you for Christmas Day. Alternatively many families have double celebrations, or open some presents on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. It is about finding what works out best for the children involved – if they feel that they are missing out on something with the other parent then the whole experience will not be a happy one.


Should I help my child buy gifts for their mum/dad?

It can be a nice gesture to help you child to get a gift for their other parent. It can help keep relations healthy between the adults involved and the child is not left feeling in the middle of a minefield.


I’m worried about my ex-partner Parents trying to ‘point score’ with better presents, what can I do?

It is important to put the children first and not get them embroiled in any arguments between parents. If you can, it is worth discussing your child’s gifts with your ex-partner so that you can agree the boundaries of what gifts to get and how much to spend. It may be possible to get them a joint gift so that between the two parents a bigger present can be afforded.


My child wants me to watch their nativity play but I’m worried it will be awkward with the other parent?

School plays can be the subject of arguments over who should get to watch their child. It’s worth remembering that in most cases the Child would want both parents to be there – and possible wider family such as grandparents too. To avoid anything becoming awkward parents should discuss in advance how they plan to manage the event, including who is looking after the child post nativity play so that everyone is clear and get on with enjoying their child’s performance.


Christmas has been so stressful already, how can we avoid arguments intensifying over the holiday period?

All holiday periods can create tricky situations for couples. There may be worries over money, Christmas parties, cooking, visiting family etc. It is also a time when people may actually spend more time together because they are not working. The key is to communicate and be prepared to discuss and compromise on arrangements.


Christmas has become such a big expense and money issues have become a real issue this year – what can I do?

Money issues are a common complaint in discussions we have with divorce clients and especially in recent years as the recession has caused many to scale back spending in light of pay freezes or job losses. Again, couples should be prepared to communicate honestly about their feelings and their financial position. They can come to agreements on how much should be spent and if they have children, prioritise their young ones.


My ex-partner won’t let my wider family see my child over Christmas – what are the rights for grandparents?

While contact issues for parents are often clear, the arrangements for the wider family such as grandparents can often be overlooked. Being part of a family is a large part of growing up for many people and grandparents can have an important role to play in development. If there are problems with your spouse preventing your family from seeing your child then you should consider specialist mediation where a professional can help both sides come to an agreement. The last resort should be legal action as it can be difficult for all involved to go through the courts – and judges prefer to see couples working it out amongst themselves anyway.


I’m worried my former spouse won’t return my child after staying with them at Christmas?

If parents are concerned either about their children being ‘retained’ by the other parent or want their children to move to another country, it is vital they seek specialist legal advice as they could face a prison sentence if they do not follow the appropriate procedures.

If there is a concern that a child may be taken out of the country and not returned then the following measures could be taken:

• Insisting that contact with the child is supervised

• Surrendering the passport of the parent or child by getting an order from court if necessary

• Notify the relevant passport authorities in case of any further application for new documents

• Notify airports and ports of the potential risk of child abduction

• There is also the potential for a bond or security to be obtained if a child has to travel.


We are trying to stay together over Christmas but it’s likely we will split as we look to make New Year Resolutions, what should I do?

It’s a sad fact that following extended holiday periods, and Christmas in particular, there is often a rise in couples separating and seeking the advice of divorce lawyers. Generally the separation is not a spur of the moment decision and may have been bubbling up for months. If the relationship cannot be reconciled then seeking the help of a professional family lawyer is the next step. Whether you are looking for an amicable split using mediation to discuss the terms, or you expect to face a lengthy legal battle through the courts, they can help you to manage the process. As with many of these questions – it is important that if children are involved, their best interests come first for all parties.


If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this piece further please contact Jane Longworth at Irwin Mitchell on 0870 1500 100


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