Child arrangements during a ‘COVID Christmas’
2020 has been a truly eventful year and as we approach the end and the Christmas festivities start, time with loved ones has never felt so important. However, for some separated parents Christmas can be a time of tension as plans need to be agreed about where and how children will spend the festive season. This is impacted even more by the ever changing rules surrounding regional tiers when we come out of lockdown on 2 December and how Christmas bubbles can be formed between 23-27 December.
There are a couple of key points from the Government and family law sector that certainly should be at the forefront of every separated parent’s mind when considering what the Christmas school holidays are going to look like.
In September, a leading family judge made it clear that parties should only be bringing disputes over children to court where absolutely necessary. The judge went on to criticise parents for asking the court to micro-manage children arrangements. The view from the court is clear – where possible you should be sorting these things out yourself.
The Government has been clear that none of the restrictions regarding which tier parents will be in when lockdown is lifted will prevent children from moving between the households of separated parents, provided they are not symptomatic/self-isolating. CAFCASS (the government body that advises the court on children disputes) has also stressed the need for children to maintain their usual routine wherever possible.
With these issues in mind, here are some further points for separated parents to consider when making child arrangements this Christmas
1) Preparation is key – If you do not have plans in place now is the time to start. Talk to your ex-partner and agree on arrangements that work for you all. There is no set formula for deciding the arrangements, it is a personal choice based on what works for your family, but also the age of the children, location and how amicable you are.
2) Focus on the children – The children should always be at the heart of the plans you make and any plans made and agreed between parents need to be shared with the children, ideally by both parents at the same time so the children see there has been a united front formed in the decision making. Depending on the age of the children, it might be appropriate for parents to ask them what they would like. Older children generally need to feel they have a voice.
3) Be fair to the other parent – If this is a parent’s first year as a separated parent, this will all feel very raw and difficult. It is likely that both parties might be dreading not spending Christmas entirely with the children. Even though it can be difficult, it is important for each parent to think about the impact of any plans on the other and ask whether each would be happy with the proposed arrangements next year? If the answer is no, then maybe they should be reconsidered.
4) Stick to the plan – This year will require a certain level of flexibility and possible last-minute changes if someone in the household develops COVID symptoms, but where possible, it is important that both parents stick to the plan. Whilst flexibility is an essential part of positive child arrangements, it is important to maintain consistency and provide stability.
5) Get advice early, if needed – Christmas is chaotic and organising a co-parenting schedule on top of everything else is never going to be easy, especially if communication between separated parents is difficult. If you are struggling this year, please come and seek some advice from one of our family solicitors. We offer an initial fixed price consultation where we can discuss your situation in confidence and provide advice and options based on your specific circumstances.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.