It’s that time of year again. Separated parents everywhere will no doubt be starting to make arrangements for how they are going to spend Christmas and, more importantly, what is going to happen with their children over the Christmas season. Even the best co-parenting relationships can break down and this is particularly the case during the Christmas season, where each parent wants to spend time surrounded by family and friends, including their children.
It can be really difficult to co-parent after a relationship breakdown and ensure that children are not affected by any underlying tensions or emotions that parents feel towards one another. I see a number of clients who struggle to communicate with their former partner and feel that contact time with their child is compromised as a consequence. I often advise clients about the best ways to try and arrange matters between themselves, without recourse to mediation or court proceedings. So, here are my top tips for making arrangements for children, both at Christmas time and beyond:
Many parents communicate via text or Whatsapp. Whilst informal communications work for some people, it can be a bit too easy to send messages to one another in the heat of the moment. Much as it sounds old-fashioned, I often suggest to clients that they should try communicating via email. There are also a number of apps available dedicated to separated parents, including '2Houses' and 'Our Family Wizard'. This will encourage you both to send more measured responses. It is also a good idea to try and limit communications to those which concern the children’s health, education and wellbeing.
Cafcass (the Children and Family Courts Advisory Service) are clear that it is important for children not to feel an underlying current of tension between parents at handovers. If emotions are still running high and you find it difficult to be in one another’s company, consider whether handovers could be facilitated by a third party, or what additional measures could be put in place to ensure that contact between parents is limited.
Where the co-parenting relationship is an amicable one, consider downloading a Parenting Plan from the Cafcass website and completing this together. This helps you to agree dates for contact, but also what is expected of one another when the children are in your care. You can include as much or as little as you like, including bedtimes, discipline, extracurricular activities and more. By establishing consistent rules across households, you can both feel comfortable with the time the children spend in the other's care.
Try and agree a pattern of contact which provides consistency for the children and allows them to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. This can include direct contact but also telephone calls, messages and video calls. This is particularly the case at Christmas, where both parents are likely to want to speak to the children on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but it is unlikely the children are going to be able to spend time with both parents each day.
If you find yourself unable to agree arrangements between you, seek legal advice to find out what the alternatives are where agreement cannot be reached. The sooner you decide to do so, the more quickly issues can be addressed and a consistent pattern of contact can be established.
If you need help reaching an agreement on arrangements for your children contact our Family Law team today on 0330 0945 500 email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our contact form and we will get back to you.