Sorting out Christmas contact with your children

You know that Christmas is coming when rumours of the John Lewis annual Christmas televised advert start gathering pace and you suddenly find yourself counting down the weeks left.

For those parents who are recently separated from the other parent, it can also mean that they may not have got round to even considering Christmas contact. So, if you are a recently separated parent, why is it important to start discussing contact arrangements sooner rather than later? Unfortunately, due to emotions running high, not all parents can agree on contact arrangements following a separation especially if the split was not amicable.

Solicitors will often advise clients to attend mediation to try and reach an amicable and practical agreement however, even arranging mediation can take a couple of weeks. Solicitors will often go back and forth trying to reach an agreement, sometimes even before clients attend mediation.

If mediation fails and negotiations between respective solicitors also fail, then an application to court for a Child Arrangements Order may become necessary. This should always be a last resort.

The courts can take a few weeks to process applications and unfortunately, not all cases are resolved at the first hearing which means a parent can miss out on quality contact with their child over Christmas.

A helpful tool, that can be accessed and utilised for free, is the Parenting Plan which is available from the CAFCASS website.

The Parenting Plan is a written or online agreement between parents which helps to record how you will share the care of your child. It can be easily changed and is not a legally binding agreement. This does however mean that a parent is free to change their mind, which can often occur if the parties argue. It is not uncommon for parents to use parental alienation to stop contact if they feel they are not getting their way.

It is the children that suffer the most in such circumstances and CAFCASS are in the process of developing a practice framework to help their practitioners to assess cases which feature adult behaviours associated with high conflict.

It is hoped that a finalised version will be made available on their website from autumn 2018 and rolled out between then and March 2019. It is hoped that the framework will enhance existing practice tools, as well as introducing new resources. If a parent is unwilling to enter into a Parenting Plan and/or they are not responding to requests to resolve contact issues, than specialist legal advice should be sought immediately if not done so already. Delay can be against the children’s best interests and the children’s welfare is paramount.

A family solicitor will use their expertise and knowledge to look at the key issues and will draft the necessary correspondence / applications to court to ensure that their client has put their case forward in a coherent manner, setting out exactly what contact is sought and what orders are sought. Emotion is often left out of such correspondence, so that only the necessary legal arguments are highlighted.

If you wish to discuss your case and find out how Coley & Tilley can help you in arranging contact, please contact Sandeep Sandhu (Associate Solicitor) on 0121 643 5531 or via email at sandeep.sandhu@coleyandtilley.co.uk. We offer a free initial appointment at our Birmingham city centre office.

More information about the services that we offer can be found on our website at www.coleyandtilley.co.uk.

Please note that the above is not intended as legal advice. Specialist legal advice is recommended in relation to your own case.