As a parent, or grandparent, spending time with your children, or grandchildren, is likely to be at the forefront of your mind and holidays periods are no different. For children of separated or divorced couples, it can be a difficult time too. Making child arrangements between you and your ex can be fraught with arguments about who gets them and when, for how long, and where you're taking them. While we would always advocate that child arrangements are made amicably, there may be times when a solicitor needs to be involved. These are some of the most frequently asked questions we get from people who come to us for help.
I regularly spend time with my children so can I see them over the holidays?
If you’ve already got an arrangement / order in place which allows you to spend time with your children on a regular basis, it’s sensible to assume that you’ll be able to spend some time with them during the holiday period. Where and how much time that will be depends on the terms of what your usual arrangements are.
If it’s not possible for you and your ex to spend holidays together with your children, they’ll probably be more than happy to have two Easters or two days out to the park etc. What counts is that they don’t pay the price of their parents’ separation.
I don’t currently spend time with my children, so will I be able to see them over the holidays?
The law takes the general view that a child has a right to know both their parents and should, therefore, be able to spend time with both, unless there are serious reasons to prohibit this.
If you’re the children’s biological parent and you’ve had little or no previous contact, you’ll need to introduce time gradually and may need to get a Child Arrangements Order, which can be obtained from Court. The process often starts by working with your solicitor to try to agree contact with your children via ‘soft’ approach negotiations with your ex-partner. It can take time to come to a mutual agreement, but once settled it will set out clear arrangements of when and how you can have time with your children. This process also applies to people who aren’t parents and want to see the children, such as grandparents, blood relatives and step parents. If this isn’t possible, the Court may need to become involved.
When should I discuss holiday arrangements?
Trying to divide up your children’s time over the holidays can be tricky so make sure you discuss arrangements well in advance. Deciding who they’re going to spend Christmas Day with, for example, could be an emotional and potentially frustrating conversation, but knowing when you will have them will enable you to plan constructively.
Make the children’s welfare the focus of the conversation with your ex. Will the kids feel unsettled if they spend Christmas being driven around and swapped between parents? Discuss what you want calmly and rationally and be prepared to listen to what your ex wants. Even if you don’t agree with them, at the end of the day you both have the same goal; what’s best for your children.
If it isn’t possible to reach an agreement, or your discussions breakdown, we can help. As members of Resolution we can support you by using our negotiation skills to bring about a mutual agreement that both sides are comfortable with. This process begins by corresponding with your ex in writing, outlining your proposals and can also be followed by telephone conversations. If necessary, we can also make a referral for mediation on your behalf.
When would an application to the Court be necessary?
If negotiations/mediation prove unsuccessful, it may be necessary to issue an application to the Court.
If you regularly spend time with your children, an application for a Specific Issue Order will be appropriate. This is an application to determine a stand-alone issue, such as Easter or Christmas.
If you’re not spending any time with your children, it’s probably best to issue an application for a Child Arrangements Order which can incorporate a provision in respect of any holiday arrangements.
It’s important that you instruct a family solicitor sooner rather than later to discuss your options. The Court usually provides a date for a first hearing, six weeks from issuing the application.
What will the Court consider when making a decision relating to contact?
The Court will make its decision based on a number of factors, but its most important consideration is the welfare of the child and that will always come first.
What’s a reasonable proposal for time with the children over the holidays?
This will vary depending on a number of factors, but it’s important to remember that it’s about your children, not you so their interests, wishes and feelings come first. Make your arrangements sensible and child focussed – using the children to get back at your ex by clouding the situation with arguments and tension will only result in it becoming a difficult and troublesome time for them.
What about gifts and cards?
Maintaining a relationship with your children isn’t just about actual physical and direct time with them, it also includes things like sending cards and gifts. If you’re unable to agree time with your children during the holiday period, an alternative may be to suggest sending cards and gifts so your children know that you’re thinking of them.
How much does it cost? Can I get Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is still available in respect of family matters, however, it’s limited to individuals who are able to demonstrate that they’ve been a victim of domestic abuse within the last five years, and that the instigator of the abuse was the other party. Legal Aid eligibility is also subject to a full means assessment. We offer a free initial telephone consultation in which we can offer you further information in respect of the process and costs.
For a more specific discussion about your circumstances, we offer a half hour appointment for a small fixed fee. We also offer competitive private rates, which include unbundled services that can be tailored to meet your needs and budget if you need additional help.
I'm a grandparent of a child whose parents have separated and I'm worried I won't see them. What can I do?
Grandparents are very important to children; it’s a bout extended family and identity. Whilst it’s sometimes difficult to know how parents will react following a separation, communicating with both will help. Asking for time with your grandchild is the first step. Hopefully this will achieve what you want, but if not, then we can help you. For example we can draft a letter to the parent with care to propose time and support for your grandchild in a non-threatening way. You also have the ability to ask for mediation, which may help sort the situation out, but if all else fails, you can apply to the Court. Initially, this would be asking for permission to apply for time with your grandchild, but at every step we would try to achieve agreement.
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