Silk Family Law solicitor Carly Hope recently shared her tips on reaching an amicable agreement over where children will spend Christmas: ‘How to agree Christmas contact arrangements‘. In this latest blog post, she explains the next steps for separated parents who have not been able to reach agreement.

If you are unable to agree Christmas contact arrangements for your children, it is important to allow sufficient time before Christmas to seek advice from a specialist family lawyer and undertake any advised actions.

I have set out below full details on next steps and the options available to you. However, your family lawyer will be able to talk you through the various options in more detail and explain how they relate to your particular case.

Parent and child watching Christmas tree lights no copyright Credit S B Vonlanthen on Unsplash
Photo credit: S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash.

If you have an existing Child Arrangements Order

If you have a Child Arrangements Order in place that does not set out arrangements for Christmas, and you cannot agree, you can make an application to vary the Child Arrangements Order so Christmas arrangements are set out in an Order for the future. Speak to a family lawyer to arrange this for you.

If you have concerns about your child’s safety

If you have concerns around your children’s safety or the other parent’s behaviour towards you and your children, you should contact a family lawyer immediately to discuss what steps may or should be taken to protect your child or children.

Our team of specialist family lawyers at Silk Family Law can discuss options with you and provide advice in relation to concerns over a child’s safety.

What are the options for agreeing Christmas contact arrangements?

If you have not been able to agree Christmas contact arrangements, you don’t have an existing court order in place, and there are no specific concerns these are the steps you should follow:

  1. Initial advice. If you make an enquiry at Silk Family Law, we will take some brief details from you before arranging an initial meeting with you. We currently encourage telephone and video call appointments in the first instance, to minimise risk to our clients and staff due to Covid19. However, we can offer in-person appointments at our offices if needed. During this initial meeting, Silk can provide you with legal advice to help you agree arrangements and assist you in reaching an agreement with the other parent. We offer fixed fee initial consultations for your first hour so you know exactly how much it will cost.
  2. Assisted negotiations. Following your initial advice, if you are still struggling to reach an agreement with your child’s other parent, we can negotiate on your behalf.
  3. Mediation. If you are still unable to agree with the assistance of a solicitor, mediation can often assist in reaching an agreement. With both individual or joint session options, a trained mediator will lead the discussions in an independent forum and ensure the arrangements are in the best interests of the child and workable for the whole family. Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that is encouraged by the family Court. However, if the issue is urgent and there is insufficient time to attend mediation, an application to the court can be made without the need for a mediation referral. One of our solicitors can advise on which is the better option during an initial meeting.
  4. Application the Court. If you are still unable to agree on child contact arrangements, the last option is to make an application to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order that will set out the times that the child or children spend with each parent.

Court orders should only be used as a last resort. The court has to make a decision which it believes to be in the children’s best interests, which is a difficult task when the judge does not know you or your children and has to make a decision there and then. The court’s decision may not be what you, the other parent or your children want.

Father and son Christas trees no copyright Credit Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash
Photo credit: Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash.

What happens if we go to court to decide Christmas living arrangements?

If a court application is likely to be the route you will take, you must seek expert advice at the earliest opportunity. Sufficient time will be needed both for the court to hear the case, and for The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to contact both parents to discuss matters and make a recommendation.

When applying to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order over living arrangements at Christmas, I would always stress the urgency of the matter and personally ensure the application is issued and a hearing is listed promptly by the court.  

If you leave an application to the last minute, you may find yourself at court (although maybe not in person) a couple of days before Christmas with a judge dictating how your children will spend their holidays. This is less than ideal for everyone involved.

Has the family court process changed due to Covid19?

Since 23 March 2020, the courts have been hearing cases remotely, using telephone and video conferencing facilities. In my experience throughout the first lockdown, the courts have adapted well to remote hearings, and matters have been dealt with effectively.

I can still speak with my client and the other party prior to the hearing by telephone or video, to mirror the face to face discussions we would usually have at Court. Prior to any remote hearing, I make sure I have another method of communication available throughout the hearing, such as a second telephone line, emails or text messaging, to seek instructions from my client during the hearing.

There are occasions when we have clients personally attending our offices to sit with us while we conduct the hearing, and post lockdown this will no doubt be increasingly common once again.

At Silk Family Law, we treat remote hearings the same as in person hearings, and will still always speak with clients after remote hearings to confirm what happened during the hearing and set out the next steps I will be taking.

The court continues to deal with urgent hearings and continues to list urgent cases as soon as possible.

Christmas living arrangements and Covid19 Coronavirus

This year, we have the added uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing restrictions.

It goes without saying that parents should bear in mind current government guidelines and follow any rules in relation to mixing of households. At the time of writing, children are still able to move between the households of separated parents and I would expect that this will continue.

It is understandable you and the children will want to spend time with family, but this must be done safely and within the rules in force at the time.

Be prepared to be flexible with arrangements for the children and willing to adapt your plans if new rules or restrictions come in force.

I hope this blog post has answered all your questions about child contact arrangements at Christmas. If you have any other questions or would like to discuss your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact me online or call me on 07912 228906.

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Carly Hope is a solicitor at Silk Family Law. Her work has spanned family law and civil litigation, and she has a particular interest in children matters.