Thursday, 20 September 2012

Christmas Contact for the Children of Separated Parents

Christmas time shall soon be upon us and for many parents who have separated and have children the saga of who will have contact with the children is part of the list of things to do. Many solicitors will agree that when looking at the situation from the outside in, it is clear that where possible the children would benefit greatly from having contact with both parents on this day. When it is possible many parents will share this occasion if they live close enough to each other or if they live at a distance it makes sense to alternate the occasion between the parents each year. Sometimes even parents that live close by decide to alternate this occasion each year so that the families of each parent can spend with time with the children.

Many reading this will say that the above is simple enough and from a solicitors point of view, it is. However, there is no better evidence than this simple concept of the effect that a difficult separation can have on contact. In some cases the parents may have issues between themselves which cloud the contact as a result of which it almost becomes a battle of who will "win" the child for Christmas. This is not the way that contact should be for children. Where there are no child protection concerns or safety concerns surrounding the child, it is accepted that children benefit from having a positive relationship with both parents. So when they see their parents bickering between themselves the children are inevitably learning what type of behaviour is acceptable and may well begin to accept that this is what adult relationships are like.

Is this really the example that parents should be setting for their children?  The most important consideration should be that the parents both  have time with the children without any issues from the other parent. Whether the parents decide that Christmas is shared or alternated, this is family time when parents and children are free from the constraints of our working and school life and are given the opportunity to enjoy quality time together. The focus on this occasion should be the children and neither parent should depart from this principle.

I think every parent appreciates that quality time with the children is hard to come by with the usual school routines, swimming, dance and football lessons and many parents take on the role of their children's PA as they become older and the children's social Calender often means that parents have little time with the children. This is more the case for the parent with whom the child lives who manages the children and their time. For the parent who does not live with the child it is often the argument that the other parent lives with the children and sees them all the time. This is true, they do. But for the majority of the time they are not spending quality time in a relaxed environment with the children. They are making tea, getting them ready for bed, baths, completing homework, sorting out packed lunches and so on. This can often cause issues as the parent that does the everyday running around often feels that the parent who does not live with the children has a better quality of time with them as they are free from the restraints of school routine etc. I am equally aware that some parents share the contact and both are actively involved with the children but the more common approach is that when parents separate the child remains with one parent.

Issues such as the above can lead to a build up of emotions which then results in Christmas contact becoming an argument. Often unless agreed in advance this can become a yearly saga for many which they dread almost as much as the Christmas traffic.

Often when confronted with this situation I advise clients that there are two options during this time. Either the years are alternated or they are shared. A workable arrangement should be made so that the children benefit from time with each parent during this time whether it is contact shared on the same day or on alternate years. This allows the children to spend time with each parent and their families and children can build up their social connections with the extended family. The children benefit from contact with the families of both their parents. There are those cases when one parent can become completely unreasonable in their demands and that is where the difference between good advice and bad advice come in. It is very easy to provide your client with the lip service and agree with what they telling you to do and as solicitors we comply with our clients instructions no matter how unreasonable the instructions are. I differ in my approach here from many others. I will make clear what can be achieved and what a reasonable outcome of a court hearing would be. I also ensure that my client understands when they have a good argument or whether they have a bad one. Once the clients are informed of what the Court would be likely to order taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, and looking at what the arrangements were in the previous year, it is often very clear where a child would be spending Christmas.

I encourage clients themselves to be reasonable and take into consideration the needs of the children. This issue can be resolved cost effectively provided that you consider the situation in the cold light of day and do not let personal issues or selfish thoughts cloud your judgement. If you had contact over Christmas last year, it would be fair to agree to allow your partner to have it this year. If you shared the contact on the day maybe you want to alternate the times. If you woke up with your child on Christmas day last year would it not be reasonable to allow the other parent the same opportunity this year? Just think about the child and the fact that Christmas is about the children and the parents should keep it that way.

If you are struggling with a difficult ex partner with Christmas contact this year or have struggled for many years with this issue, call Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 and our Directors no nonsense approach will set you straight and if you are being unreasonable you will be told. We pride ourselves on providing good honest advice and the fact that you may not like what we tell you makes no difference to us. We believe our role is to advice you and ensure the advice is a realistic and that you do not spend your money chasing an outcome which is unrealistic. Please call in confidence to book your free consultation now.