Separated families can look to advice from family law experts this Christmas to ensure child contact arrangements run smoothly over the festive period.
The most recent government guidelines state that on Christmas Day, people are able to form an exclusive ‘Christmas bubble’, composed of no more than three households.
Children from separated families may be part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles, as restrictions do not apply to child contact arrangements, and children are able to travel between tiers if parents live in areas with different tier levels.
From applying for court orders, to making independent plans and keeping interaction civil, the family law specialists at JMP Solicitors have shared advice on best conduct for contact in separated families this Christmas.
Neil Remnant head of family law at JMP Solicitors, said: “Christmas is a time for family and showing solidarity, following a relationship breakdown it can be very difficult to keep a sense of ‘togetherness’ but doing so is very important, particularly during the festive season.
“Child contact is not affected by lockdown rules, as long as the child or parent has not tested positive for COVID-19. However, if the child is in a vulnerable group, it is best for parents to work together to find a solution which limits exposure from other households.
“This year has already been unsettling for children, so parents should ensure Christmas is without conflict. It’s very important to consider the family dynamic and the health, safety and wellbeing of the children. Christmas is a sensitive and important time for keeping children as undisturbed and happy as possible, to minimise damage in the aftermath of divorce or separation, so we’ve compiled a list of important considerations to help keep Christmas conflict-free to.”
Here is the list of five considerations for managing child contact arrangements this Christmas
- Make fair and safe arrangements
If you can make arrangements for Christmas without legal interference, then it is advisable to do so. It is important to be civil and organise a Christmas schedule that’s fair to the child and the parents, which ensures the child’s safety if they are vulnerable. If such an agreement is not possible, then the court may become involved to ensure contact time at Christmas is fair to everyone. If parents do not comply, when there is no reasonable excuse or exception, then the non-resident parents have the right to seek enforcement action, so it is always best for parents to sort arrangements between themselves.
Based on the latest high court advice, if the child has tested positive for COVID-19, or someone in the child’s household has tested positive – they should not move between households for contact with parents. If a child has been told to self-isolate, but they have not had direct contact with someone who has tested positive, then they can still travel between households for contact with parents.
- Don’t argue
Following the separation of parents, children will already feel unsettled, and the pandemic could be adding more stress to an already confusing time. Christmas is a time for family, so for the sake of keeping a child happy and secure, it’s important to stay calm, cheerful and to keep arguments for another day.
- Be amicable
In terms of previous Christmas routines – it’s important to stick to what children will remember and what is traditional for them. If you used to have dinner at a certain time, open presents at a certain time or even in a certain order, play board games in the afternoon etc, then try and stick to these arrangements. It’s these traditions that keep the Christmas spirit alive, it’s what your children will remember and whatever arrangements are decided for Christmas, it’s important to know that structure is key.
- Stick to court orders
If the post-divorce or separation situation means it’s not possible for arrangements to be made by yourself, then the court can get involved to ensure that Christmas arrangements are sorted. The court will seek to deal with matters in a constructive way and in the interest of the children. As this will involve a court order, the arrangements made will be legally enforceable. It’s important to do this as early as possible as there could be a backlog in cases, due to the pandemic.
- Communicate with family virtually
With a limited number of households allowed in a support bubble, Christmas might feel different for children without the usual presence of certain family members. Make sure children can still have contact with extended family through virtual communication methods such as Facetime, Zoom or Skype, or even or via phone calls.