Christmas is just a week away…and everyone is getting into the festive spirit.
For some, however, Christmas cannot live up to the expectations which we are led to believe are an essential part of normal family life. This is particularly a dilemma for parents and children in separated families – if the appropriate preparations are not put in place well in advance.
Arrangements for the children after separation
The majority of separated parents establish sensible, feasible arrangements between themselves for their children. It is the parents who respect the changed circumstances in the family who achieve this and create a relaxed atmosphere for the benefit of the children. They consider how the children are to divide their time between each parent, arrangements and times for school holidays, Christmas, Easter and other family occasions.
It is clear that such arrangements are preferable to constant disagreements and even court proceedings. It should be emphasised that it is the children who benefit most from a consensual approach. Children dislike, almost more than anything else, to be forced into having to side with one parent or the other. They far prefer to see that, whilst their parents no longer live together, they can still talk and work out practical matters.
It is when no agreement is made that problems can arise. In these families, for a variety of reasons, the parents find it difficult to find a solution which suits the new situation.
Some tips to help resolve problems
Based on the experience of our family law team, here are some tips which we hope might help parents to approach common problems of this sort.
- Don’t be in a hurry. Start the discussions in good time. For example, if trying to make arrangements for Christmas, raise the topic in October. Do not leave it so late that, if agreement proves impossible, there is little or no time to find a solution using other methods, e.g. mediation or court proceedings
- Work out very carefully the arrangements you think would be best for the children. Consider how you will respond if your former partner argues for alternatives. Identify the important issues which have an impact on the children and do not waste energy and emotions on trivial issues which will make no significant difference
- In discussions, whether they are face to face or in writing, keep emotions under control – stick to the issues which are relevant. Airing grievances and point scoring will usually make finding a settlement even more difficult. If there are matters relating to the welfare and safety of the children which have to be discussed (for example, questions of uncontrollable temper or violence), raise these in a way that involves as little confrontation as possible
- Don’t be ashamed to seek help. Ask a reliable friend who will give you honest advice. Don’t approach several friends searching for the response which agrees with yours – there may be a better solution. In addition, there are specialists available who are experienced in dealing with these problems, be they lawyers, mediators or counsellors. They can help guide sensible and constructive discussions, find the middle ground and steer everyone towards an acceptable and satisfactory solution
- Don’t air grievances in public or on social media. When emotions are at their most exposed, the temptation is to be critical. Doing so will almost certainly only fuel resentment and perhaps lead to public tit-for-tat, which will make matters more difficult. Worse still, depending on their ages, the children may hear about it. The rule is, keep the discussions private – don’t publicise them over social media or even face to face with others.We shall be devoting the whole of a forthcoming article to the issue of the use of social media.
- Depending on their ages, speak to the children and keep them informed, using non-critical, age appropriate language e.g. “Daddy and I are discussing what would be best.” If the children are old enough, it might also be fine to say “What do you think?”
- Be honest with your partner. For example, if you are planning to go away and previously made arrangements that need to be changed, tell him/her and don’t let the news slip out through mutual friends
- Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “Is what I am asking for reasonable, realistic and really best for the children? How would I feel if I were in his/her shoes?”
- If the other party is at fault, it is understandable to feel let down and hurt. However, unless there are questions of safety and welfare, fault is unlikely to play a large part in the practical arrangements for the children.
- Always remember that whatever has happened in the relationship, both of you remain parents of the children. You have a responsibility to try to agree how they should be brought up. When you and your former partner were still together, you would not always immediately agree every detail – you would discuss and come to an agreement. Except in the most serious situations, the separation should make no difference.
Regard going to court a last resort
Sometimes, it proves impossible for parents to come to an agreement. In that event, mediation or counselling can be helpful. In the end, there may appear no alternative but to take the case to court. Even then, serious efforts will be made to try to find a solution by agreement, often through the involvement of the court appointed Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS) social worker.
No one wants to impose on parents an arrangement which they could achieve themselves, this is a last resort. A Judge will always explore how parents might be helped to find a solution.
We have very experienced practitioners who have been specially trained for these sometimes difficult cases.