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Planning for a Merry Christmas

Family lawyer Lin Cumberlin advises on the steps separated parents can take to ensure child arrangements run smoothly during the holiday season.

Christmas can be a stressful time for separated families, with both parents keen to spend time with their children over the festive period. For service personnel away on exercise for extended periods of time, often abroad, it may be a rare opportunity to enjoy a precious break with family. 

Child-centred

Although most parents may be able to agree where their child(ren) will live and how often they will see and spend time with each parent without resorting to litigation – and this is certainly the approach encouraged by the courts – differing locations and new relationships can put an added strain on child arrangements over Christmas and the New Year. So, what can you do to ensure that your plans come to fruition and relations remain amicable?

In any discussions, ensure that you are putting your child’s best interests first and try not to let your personal feelings cloud your judgement or impact the decisions you make. Christmas is a magical time for children and generally speaking they will benefit from quality time spent with both parents, not forgetting extended family such as grandparents. Try to be open and flexible in your plans, what works will depend on each family’s individual circumstances. Having two Christmases, alternating annual arrangements or an intraday handover are all arrangements I have seen that work well.

For more information contact the Head of Family Law, Lin Cumberlin by clicking here.

Plan ahead

If you have plans to take your child abroad, broach the idea with your ex-partner with plenty of notice. While there may be a temptation to keep plans under wraps to avoid confrontation, providing no opportunity to discuss and alleviate concerns will only serve to reduce trust and increase acrimony. Having to make a last-minute court application to ensure the handover of passports or obtain permission to travel is both fraught and costly and can typically be avoided with a bit of forward planning.

Provide the other parent with as much information as possible about the trip in advance, including contact details and itineraries and agree times for contact (via WhatsApp, text or phone) with the children.

For fathers, if you are named on the child’s birth certificate, were married to the mother or it has been granted by a court you will have parental responsibility for your child. This confers certain rights and obligations upon you. It does not mean, however, that you can take the child out of the country without the other parent’s permission (this also applies to mothers even though they have automatic parental responsibility). Removing a child without consent risks an accusation of child abduction. Permission should be obtained from the other parent (and anyone else with parental responsibility) in the form of a written letter setting out the reasons for travel and their contact details. The travelling parent should be prepared to present this at a UK or foreign border and it is also advisable to carry evidence of your relationship to the child in the form of a birth certificate and, if your name is different to the child, your divorce or marriage certificate. There may be other country-specific documentary requirements so if you are unsure, it is best to check with the destination country’s UK embassy regarding this.

If there is a child-arrangements order in place confirming the child(ren) live with you, you are permitted to take your child out of the country for up to 28 days without permission, although I would always advise obtaining this out of courtesy to the other parent and in the interest of promoting good co-parenting relations.

For more information contact the Head of Family Law, Lin Cumberlin by clicking here.

Getting help

If you really can’t agree or the other parent refuses to consent to the trip, there are several possible avenues open to you. Family mediation might help you achieve a compromise and move things forward, although bear in mind this route could take some time which again underlines the importance of making plans in good time. A polite solicitors’ letter, outlining arrangements and providing written safeguards, could do the trick by providing the reassurances necessary to put minds at rest.

Only as a last resort would I advise making an application to court, in which case you can apply for a Specific Issue Order. It is important to bear in mind that the welfare of the child will be always be the court’s primary concern. As I have already mentioned, a major concern for the courts is whether a child is at risk of not being returned to the UK, and so travelling to a country that has not signed up to international legislation concerning child abduction (the Hague Convention) could raise alarm bells. In this situation, it would be prudent to seek legal advice to maximise the possibility of a successful application.  

You can find the contact details for Lin Cumberlin on the team page, Lin is Head of the Family Department at Batt Broadbent Solicitors in Salisbury.

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