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Making arrangements for children at Christmas


As Christmas approaches, the question often comes up in family law as to who is entitled to spend time with the children and when. Jenna Atkinson, associate solicitor in our family law team, explains how to parents can navigate holiday arrangements amicably.

It can be difficult for separating families to ensure Christmas remains a special time for the children. Each case is unique, and a child-focused approach is crucial.

Reaching an agreement on your own

There is no specific provision in law for Christmas family arrangements save that child arrangements are governed by the Children Act 1989, section 8. The court will consider a welfare checklist, enshrined in the Act, when considering an application before it. It is highly recommended that parents firstly try to reach an agreement between themselves to suit their individual circumstances.

If your child is old enough (as a guide, from the age of nine upwards), it is very important that their wishes and feelings are taken into consideration, and this will be given more weight as the child approaches the age of 16. Court involvement should be a last resort where all other options have been explored and still no agreement has been reached.

Putting the child’s view first

The best strategy is to approach the situation as far in advance as possible. The later it is left, the more stressful it will become to resolve the issue. It is important to open up communication with each other and make realistic suggestions. It is also important to consider the child’s perspective and their wishes and feelings. Once something has been agreed, it is always vital to follow this up in writing to avoid any future misunderstandings.

If matters cannot be agreed, an alternative form of dispute resolution may be appropriate such as mediation. If all other means have been exhausted then an application to the court may be required to resolve matters so that future arrangements are defined and set out in an order, which will then be legally binding upon both parents.

The Family Court’s stance

When the Family Court is asked to make an order in respect of the arrangements for the children, it must not do so unless it would be better for the children than making no order at all. A judge will consider how matters should be resolved to ensure what is in the best interests for the children is determined.

Court lists can be exceptionally busy in December so, if it is clear early resolution of a dispute is unlikely, an early court application should be made.

It is important specialist advice is sought on these issues. If you wish to seek advice regarding Christmas arrangements for your children, or any other family matters, please contact Harrison Drury’s family law team on 01772 258321.

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