How To Resolve A Child Contact Dispute Over the Festive Period


How To Resolve A Child Contact Dispute Over the Festive Period

It is completely natural for parents to want the experience of their child waking up with them on Christmas morning. After all, this is one of the highlights of being a parent. For separated families, however, it is an unfortunate reality that even the most amicable child arrangements can go sour over the festive period. At a time when families should be doing all they can to give children a wonderful experience, many separated couples simply cannot reach an amicable agreement regarding contact. This can cause considerable distress for the child at the centre of the row and problems with ongoing contact arrangements. In this article, we will explain what you can do if you and your ex-partner cannot agree on child contact for your child over the festive period.

1. Plan child arrangements for the festive period early

One of the biggest reasons for disputes between parents when it comes to contact over Christmas and New Year is that plans have already been made. It may be that one parent has also decided to take their child away on a special break or they may have made arrangements for family members to visit. By discussing child contact arrangements many months in advance, this situation can be completely avoided. It also removes the potential for one parent to assume that their child will be with them over the period when this has not been agreed.

Ultimately, there is no one way to manage contact with children over the festive period and how this is done will depend on a range of factors, including the preferences of the children, how far apart you live, whether you tend to go away each year, whether you have a new family, and how many bedrooms you have. Some separated parents will simply choose to alternate who their child spends time with each Christmas. In other cases, one parent may have the child every year and invite the other parent to join them.

2. Consider mediation to resolve the dispute

By thinking ahead early about Christmas arrangements, if you and your ex cannot agree, you will have plenty of time to seek professional advice. Many separated couples in this situation will seek the help of an expert impartial mediator who can help them work through the dispute and reach an amicable agreement. Meditation can be extremely effective in this type of disagreement. Not only is it extremely cost-effective and results in a quicker resolution than going through the courts, but it will better preserve your relationship with your child’s other parent. Mediation is not always suitable, however, especially if there is a history of domestic abuse.

3. Child Arrangements Orders

Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) are formal court documents that set out who a child should spend time with, where, and when. If you already have a CAO in place, it is important to check what it says about child contact over the festive period. It may state that contact with your child at Christmas should alternate between you and your ex-partner each year. Alternatively, there may be no mention of special arrangements over the festive period.

To prevent potential disputes, it is always advisable to think ahead when entering into a CAO and ask the court to include a section covering times of the year when different arrangements should apply, such as the Christmas period.

It is important to note, however, that not everyone will want to include festive child arrangements in a CAO because it removes the element of flexibility. If you and your ex-husband or wife get on and can work together for the sake of your child, then you can simply come to an agreement ahead of time between yourselves.

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree on festive contact arrangements, you may be able to ask the court for a CAO or to change (vary) your existing CAO. Before considering such a request, the court will want proof that you have been to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to determine if mediation is an appropriate way to resolve the matter in the first instance.

What happens if a CAO is breached?

If your CAO contains a provision for festive child arrangements and the other parent decides not to honour the agreement, they will be in breach of the order. The court can then enforce the order by requiring that the festive arrangement be adhered to and possibly ordering the offending parent to:

• Attend a Separated Parents Information Programme

• Go to prison

• Pay a fine

• Pay compensation for any financial loss, or

• Do unpaid community work of up to 200 hours

The judge may also change the CAO in favour of the other parent.

If your ex-partner is not cooperating with the arrangements made for your child over the festive period, we recommend keeping records (e.g. messages) and speaking to a family law Solicitor who can advise you. Remember, non-compliance with a CAO is not normally a matter for the police and it will need to be resolved by the courts if you cannot agree between yourselves.

Final words

Disagreements over child contact arrangements at Christmas are often emotionally charged and can be difficult to resolve. That said, as long as both parents are prepared to be reasonable, fair, and share access equally, even the most heated disagreement can be resolved. While the courts may make a decision on such matters, this is not a quick process and the decision may not be as you would wish. For this reason, try to resolve the matter between yourselves first. If this is not effective, try mediation or speak to a family law Solicitor who explain your options based on the circumstances.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please call us on 0300 3732424.