How to co-parent at Christmas

The approach of December gives separated parents the responsibility of working out arrangements for the holidays that best suit everyone.

As family lawyers, we always advise that parents should try to reach an agreement between themselves if possible. The good news is that most parents do manage to reach agreement, even if it involves a degree of ‘give and take’.

Here are some of the questions which we are most often asked about the arrangements for children over the Christmas period.

“I would have concerns about the safety of the children if they were to go to stay with their father/mother. What should I do?”

The primary responsibility of every parent is to keep their children safe. If your concern is based on hard evidence, for example, an incident or event which has happened quite recently and there would be no one else present to help keep the children safe, then you would be justified in refusing to let the children go. If you are in any doubt about what is the right thing to do, then try talking to a friend whose opinion you trust and ask what they think.

At some stage you are going to have to try to discuss the problem with your former partner. When you do so, explain your view clearly and calmly. Try to use neutral language rather than inflaming the situation. See if there is a way of finding some sort of compromise, for example suggesting a trusted friend or relative could supervise the children visiting the other parent. 

Whatever the outcome, concerns about safety are going to have to be resolved in the longer term and you may need to take legal advice. Both of you might benefit from trying to find a solution through mediation. As a last resort, it may be necessary to make an application to the court to seek assistance in deciding the issues in the best interests of the children.

“There is a court order in place which includes arrangements for Christmas. This year the children are due to be with their other parent but they/their new partner have recently had covid. I am worried about the health of the children. Do I have to let the children go?”

The starting point is that contact arrangements which are in the best interests of the children should take place. Whether covid in the other household justifies changing the arrangements is a question of medical opinion in terms of the potential risk to the children.

If you are concerned, then you should speak to your GP and explain the situation. If the GP is happy that the other parent/their partner have had sufficient time to recover from covid and there is no or, very little, risk to the children, then you should allow them to go. You should also encourage your children to be positive about the situation.

If, however, the covid arises just before the children are due to go, then you would be justified in changing (and probably just deferring) the visit.

“Our two young children live with my ex-partner most of the time. There is no court order in place about them visiting me. The children only visit me when my ex-partner agrees and sometimes weeks go by and I do not see them. I want them to come to me at Christmas this year. Can I insist they come?"

You can “insist” but that does not mean that your ex-partner has to agree. Also a situation like this does need addressing for the longer term, not just in term of arrangements for Christmas. It is important to ensure you have a regular and consistent pattern of contact with your children.

In the first instance, you should seek legal advice and also consider going to mediation to try to work out a solution. If mediation fails, then it may be necessary to make an application to court. It is important to understand that even if you do ultimately have to issue court proceedings, there will still be opportunities to try to achieve an agreement between you.

“My ex-partner and I find it very difficult to speak to each other calmly and conversations nearly always end up in an argument. Our two teenage children live with my ex-partner, who tells me that they do not want to see me. I want the chance to speak to my children to try to find out what they really feel and would like to do”.

The starting point is that it is rarely appropriate for there to be no contact at all between children and one of their parents. There is respected research which shows that children who maintain a relationship with both parents are more secure and better adjusted than those who are estranged from one parent.

It would be important to find out whether it really is the case that the children do not want to see you or if they are saying that only to please the other parent. It is important to establish whether there is a possibility the other parent is influencing their decision (either directly or unintentionally).

In order to try to establish the true “wishes and feelings” of the children, there may have to be an investigation by a welfare officer from CAFCASS (the children and family support service) which would be part of the court process.

It is better for both children and parents for issues such as this to be clarified swiftly and clearly, to ensure that feelings do not become too entrenched over time.

How we can help

There is a huge variety in the sort of problems which parents face in connection with the arrangements for their children at Christmas and also at other times.

However difficult the problem(s) may seem, rest assured that the majority are capable of being resolved. If you find that you and a former partner cannot agree things between you, then it is sensible to seek help sooner rather than later.

Contact our team of experienced family lawyers who can invariably find a solution for you.