Man with young girl at Christmas

Family law

Child contact arrangements at Christmas

Agreeing shared contact for children can be difficult for divorced or separated parents. Here we break down your options to help this Christmas.

02 November 2021

When any type of relationship breaks down, it can be difficult for both parties to agree on the best way to separate – and it’s not always amicable. Arguably, one of the toughest considerations for families when they reach a point of separation or divorce is what happens with their children.

The process of forming an agreement on who has contact with the children, and when, isn’t always smooth sailing, but it’s important that you and your ex-partner agree on what’s best for your children early on, as the festive season fast approaches.

What is child contact?

In a typical child contact arrangement, children primarily reside with one parent and have consistent, regular contact with the other – this can vary over time and depends on your specific circumstances.

Agreements can cover:

  • Deciding which parent the child should live with
  • How often the child spends time with the other parent
  • How long contact should last for – a few hours, weekend stays, etc
  • Where contact should take place, be it at the other parent’s home or in the community

How can you arrange contact during festive holidays?

Not having a concise child arrangement after separation or divorce can lead to disputes, but you can take steps to avoid this by planning with your ex-partner as early as possible.

Although Christmas is said to be a time for families to come together, this doesn’t always mean spending time under one roof, and you may need to compromise to reach an agreement.

Consider what’s best for your child and try to speak to your ex-partner about the fairest route to keep contact in place over the festive period. This could involve splitting Christmas Day between both parents – for example, your ex-partner could spend time with your child in the morning/afternoon while you spend time with them in the evening and on Boxing Day.

Keep in mind that the types of arrangements you reach will depend on your specific circumstances and your partner’s willingness to negotiate amicably. It may be the case that you require third party help from a family mediator or a family lawyer.

What can you do if an agreement isn’t reached?

If you can’t reach an agreement, you may wish to contact our lawyers. A family lawyer can help by negotiating your agreement or help you to arrange a Mediation Information Assessment for you, led by a qualified family mediator.

Our lawyers can also apply for a child arrangements order on your behalf.

What is a child arrangements order?

A child arrangements order has replaced child contact orders and residence orders. The court uses this legally binding agreement to help you reach a consensus on where your child should live, how time is divided, and the type of contact you or your ex-partner should have with your child, e.g. telephone calls or in-person visits.

You can apply for a court order with the help of a lawyer if you’re the child’s mother, father, or if you’ve parental responsibility for the child. If you’re a grandparent, you can apply for a court order with the court’s permission.

Top tips for handling child contact arrangements

With a few weeks to go until Christmas, we’ve put together some top tips to help you manage the contact arrangements for your children this festive period:

  • Compromise is crucial – Christmas is a magical time where your children should be at the heart of any plans. Think about how they’d like to spend their Christmas day
  • Plan your arrangements as early as possible – this should give you plenty of time to identify and amicably resolve any potential disagreements. If clashes can’t be resolved, then look at other options, including attending mediation and seeking legal advice
  • If you do feel you’ve exhausted all other options and need to make an application to the court, our specialist family lawyers recommend that you do this as soon as possible. The courts are very busy, and December can be one of the most congested months of the year
  • Try to relax and enjoy the time you have with your child on whatever day it is
  • After the Christmas period is over, it’s important to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked for your child. You should then discuss this with your ex-partner and work together to ensure the same issues do not arise again
  • Try not to change plans at the last minute as this can affect your child negatively

How can we help

We understand that these discussions can be tough, and the festive period may only make it more difficult to reach an agreement. Our team of experts are on hand to offer up-to-date and reliable legal advice, and to help you reach a decision that's best for your child.

If you'd like to arrange a free initial consultation with a specialist family lawyer from Slater and Gordon, please contact us on 0808 175 7710 and we'll be happy to help.

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