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‘Tis the season…to go to court?

As a family solicitor at this time of year, I ask almost every client I am advising whether they have sorted out their arrangements for Christmas with their children. Christmas can be a very emotional time, particularly for separated parents.

One thing that has changed this year, is the varying restrictions we now face as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Courts, and the Government have been very clear that existing arrangements are still able to take place despite the restrictions.

The family courts usually set aside several days immediately prior to the Christmas break just to sort out disputes about Christmas arrangements. These are now being carried out by Telephone or Zoom.

In my experience every family has a different arrangement regarding Christmas and every family thinks that their arrangement is normal. There is clearly no normal with regard to Christmas.

The best advice which I can give to any parent is to sort out your Christmas arrangements as soon as you can. Ideally children should spend time with both parents over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Some parents manage to maintain civilities so that they are together on Christmas morning to watch their children open their presents. Perhaps one parent then leaves the house leaving the children with the other parent to have Christmas lunch with the children and one side of the family.

Often there is a handover later in the afternoon on Christmas Day. Time is usually shared, with the children moving between households.

Some parents prefer to leave children at home on Christmas Day and for the children to have another Christmas Day on Boxing Day with the other parent. This also works well as the children are less tired.

In general the courts like to see parents being amicable and fair with each other.

If the court has to decide the Christmas arrangements, they often order Christmas Eve with one parent overnight to Christmas Day on alternate years, with the other parent having Christmas day evening to Boxing Day.

This is fair and works well provided the parents live in close proximity to each other.

The rest of the Christmas holidays are usually split with a few days between each parent. This can involve much to-ing and fro-ing between households but does ensure that everyone in the wider family gets to see the children over Christmas.

It is worth stressing that while this is usually the arrangement a court will look for, they do look closely at what is best for the needs (and wants) of the children first and foremost.

The message is definitely make your Christmas arrangements as far in advance as possible and be fair and reasonable with the other parent. Children pick up on animosity between parents and arguments in front of children should obviously always be avoided.

If you are in any doubt about sorting out your Christmas arrangements, I urge you to seek legal advice as soon as possible. If a court application is required this needs to be made sooner rather than later.

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