Susan Davies, partner at Staffordshire solicitors Ansons, considers some of the issues facing separated families at Christmas.
Christmas is the season of goodwill and a time for families to spend time together. Or is it? For many families going through separation or divorce it can be an extremely difficult and emotional time of year.
Questions commonly asked by parents include: Who will the children spend Christmas Eve with? Should they return to the other parent before or after lunch on Christmas Day? Should the children always spend Christmas Eve with the parent they live with or should parents take it in turns?
Parents may have strong views following a break up and very often find it hard to reach an agreement between themselves. This can cause friction and distract attention from who is most important in this situation: the children. After all, it is the child's right to see his or her parents.
It must be in the child's best interests for his or her parents to agree times for contact and this should always be encouraged. If parents are unable to reach an agreement they could consider mediation, whereby trained mediators try and assist the parents in coming to a mutually acceptable arrangement. Mediation does, however, require both parents to attend and actively want to reach an agreement. If mediation fails or is not suitable, such as in cases of domestic violence, a specialist family law solicitor can negotiate on the parent's behalf or, if this fails, pursue an application through the family courts for Christmas contact or contact generally to be decided.
The court process involves an application being made to the court and a date will be set for the child's parents to attend. Some courts will arrange for the parents to meet with a person from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to see if an agreement can be reached at court. Usually children are not required to attend court.
If no agreement is reached a report may be ordered and this can take anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks. Both parents will be spoken to. Depending upon the child's age he or she may also be spoken to in a child-friendly way. The CAFCASS officer will then report to the court and, where possible, make a recommendation of the contact they feel is appropriate for the child. Often, following receipt of the report an agreement between the parents can be reached. If not, the case is listed for a final hearing where both parents can put their arguments to the Judge who will then make a decision.
It is much better to agree a compromise that is acceptable to both parents rather than allow a court to make a decision which, potentially, neither parent may like.
For further information, please contact Susan Davies of Ansons on 01543 263456 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ansonsllp.com