Family law

School holiday child arrangements

Our family law experts discuss splitting school holidays for separated parents, and when you need to seek consent to take your child on holiday.

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While most children look forward to school holidays with excitement and anticipation, it can be a difficult time for many separated parents. This is especially the case where there are disputes between separated parents over the logistics of childcare arrangements in the summer holidays.

To avoid this, many separated or divorced parents try to decide on arrangements ahead of time and prepare a written routine or parenting plan if they can agree arrangements or, as a last resort, apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. Here, we answer some commonly asked questions and share our expert advice to reduce the stress of the school holidays.

How to split school holidays as separated parents

It’s always best for separated parents to try to work together to decide on child arrangements over the holiday period, regardless of your personal feelings towards each other. Every family’s unique, and what works for someone else might not work for you and your circumstances as separated parents. Remember that the child’s interest and wellbeing should be priority when making decisions.

Where one parent is the primary carer of the children, it’s often the case that during school holiday periods the other parent will want to take on extra responsibility and help with childcare beyond their term time agreement. This is generally welcomed by the primary caregiver, but it’s always best to make these arrangements ahead of time. Any plans that you have for holidays should always be agreed with the other parent before they’re made final and before your children are told about them.

For co-parents who live close by one another, it can often be easier to arrange childcare around their different working patterns. For example, the children might spend mornings with one parent and evenings with the other throughout the holidays. If both parents are willing to communicate well, this can often be the best approach to successful co-parenting, and can avoid needing to pay for extra childcare or request further time off work.

Still, where relationships are strained, or where parents live some distance from one another, it can be difficult for an amicable agreement to be reached. If you’re struggling to agree on how to split childcare in the school holidays, it may be time to speak to a specialist family law solicitor.

Our legal experts offer tailored advice and support for separated parents, and where necessary, can work with you to reach an agreement/parenting plan, refer you to mediation or, as a last resort, apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order on your behalf. A Child Arrangements Order is a formal arrangement setting out with whom the children shall live, spend time with, and how often.

Can I take my children on holiday?

Aside from putting childcare arrangements in place, a common cause of family tensions around the school holidays comes when one parent wishes to take the children on holiday. Many separated parents look forward to the time between school terms as an opportunity to take their children on holiday and spend an extended period of time with them, even if only for a few days.

Still, where relations between two separated parents are strained, arranging a date when one parent can take the children away, whether it be in the UK or abroad, can be difficult. You should always notify your ex-partner in advance in relation to where and when you want to take your children away, and make sure to organise plans for the other parent to keep in touch with the children throughout the holiday, whether this be via phone or video call.

The legal position for taking your children on holiday will depend on whether a court order is in place, as well as who has parental responsibility of the children. Where a court order is in place, and the children live with you under this order, you can take your children out of the country for up to 28 days. If the order states that the children live with both parents, either parent has this right.

If no specific court order is in place, then you need to seek the consent of each person with parental responsibility of the children before taking them out of the country. At birth, parental responsibility lies with the mother of the child. This extends to the father or other parent in the following circumstances:

  • If they’re named on the birth certificate
  • If they’re married to the mother when the child’s born
  • By entering into a parental responsibility agreement
  • Through a parental responsibility order, or a ‘live with’ child arrangements obtained in Children Act Proceedings

It’s also important to remember that in some circumstances other parties might have parental responsibility for the child, such as a step-parent or guardian. In this case, consent from this person is also required.

If you have parental responsibility for the children and wish to take them on holiday within England or Wales, and there is no court order in place, you don’t need permission to take the children on holiday. Still, it’s always best to keep all parties in the loop when it comes to arranging any holidays with your children.

If you’ve established that you’ll need to seek permission to take your children on holiday, try to do so as soon as possible to allow for successful co-parenting. The more notice that the other parties involved have, and the more you try to communicate openly with them, the more likely it is you’ll come to a cordial agreement.

Can my ex take the children on holiday without my permission?

If your ex-partner wants to take your children on holiday, you might be wondering if you’ve any legal grounds to prevent this, or if your written consent is needed.

If you have parental responsibility, or an existing child arrangement order states that the children resides with you, then the children can’t be taken out of the country without your consent. Similarly, if the order states that you, as the non-resident parent, spend set time with the children, your permission would be needed to vary this arrangement to allow for a holiday. Failure to do so would be a breach of the order.

The main scenario where your permission isn’t needed, is where the children’s other parent has parental responsibility, and is planning on taking them on holiday in England or Wales. This is classed as being within the same jurisdiction which means that consent isn’t usually needed from the other parent.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your children going on holiday with their other parent, or feel there may be a risk the children won’t be returned, then you should get in touch with a specialist family law lawyer.

Can your ex dictate who is around your child during school holidays?

The school holidays are often the time where social events and celebrations take place that involve children meeting new people, spending time at social events with their parents and attending extended family gatherings.

Whether this is meeting a parent’s new partner, or simply new friends, it’s not unusual for disputes to arise between divorced parents about a child being around people who one parent doesn’t know personally, or perhaps doesn’t like.

Before allowing your children to meet a new partner or group of friends it’s common courtesy to let the other parent know ahead of time. This will avoid the news reaching them afterwards from the children or another source. It’s also a good idea to discuss how your children might react to any new partners, and how it might affect them emotionally. Sometimes it’s best to let the children know about a new partner before they’re introduced to them in person, giving them time to process the news.

If your ex-partner’s making it difficult for you to introduce your new partner to your children, or is unreasonably trying to dictate who your children are around in your care, then it might be time to reach out to a family law solicitor. This could mean working with a legal expert to improve communication with your ex, or to apply to the court for a contact order to resolve any specific issues.

Why is a Child Arrangement Order useful during school holidays?

Where separated parents struggle to communicate, and negotiations to arrange specific dates for childcare don’t go to plan, planning for the school holidays can be tiresome. Many separated parents who have notably strained relationships may already have a child arrangement order in place from the court. Still, with the extended holiday periods, particularly in summer, these arrangements often have to be changed.

If you’re struggling to arrange amicable arrangements with your ex-partner, mediation is usually the recommended first step to take. Mediation allows parents to communicate through a qualified neutral third-party, and some cases may be resolved this way.

If mediation’s unsuccessful, or your ex-partner’s uncooperative in the process, an application can be made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to set out how the school holidays will be split between parents. When an application’s made, the court will assess each situation on an individual basis and consider what’s best for the child.

If a Child Arrangement Order is made, the Judge can set out within this document which parent the child will live with and when the child should spend time with the other parent, which can include school holidays.

When do I need a solicitor in child arrangements?

Resolving child arrangements shouldn’t need to involve an application to the Court, which is always to be seen as a last resort. If both parties can communicate in advance, and sensibly arrange how best to divide the term time and holiday arrangements, then this is always the best option for the children. If the parents then wish to have this documented, our legal experts can prepare a written routine/parenting plan that documents the arrangements.

When disputes occur in relation to taking the children on holiday, or over who’ll get to spend most time with the children while they’re off school, specialist advice from a family law solicitor can help. Whether this is simply to negotiate arrangements, or to discuss making an application for a Child Arrangements order, our expert family law team are here to offer help and support for separated parents.

Why choose us?

At times when emotions are running high, and separated parents begin to argue over dividing the children’s time in the school holidays, it isn't always possible for parents to agree on suitable arrangements. If an agreement can’t be reached, our dedicated family lawyers are always here to help you with every aspect of the law relating to your children and child arrangements.

Slater and Gordon has a dedicated team of specialist family law experts to offer tailored advice and guidance to suit your individual needs. We’re one of the UK's largest and best-known law firms and have a team of solicitors to advise and guide you, no matter how complex your situation may be. Our dedicated teams are ranked in both the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners Legal Directories every year.

To speak to a member of our children’s law team, call us first on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online.

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