Act early to ensure a happy Christmas for children of separated parents - Ashley McCann
Deciding how to share a child’s Christmas holidays can be difficult for separated parents, particularly in the first year of separation when emotions are high and life is unsettled.
In a legal sense this year is no different from any other: children can move between their parents and their respective bubbles at any time, no matter the distance (albeit travel abroad might prove difficult). Putting the law to one side, the reality is that Covid-19 still has the potential to create problems on a practical level, particularly if one parent or the child tests positive or requires to self-isolate. Forward planning is more important now than ever and by following our top tips below parents can maximise their chances of Christmas going smoothly during this time of uncertainty.
Act early: Initiating the discussion with the other parent early gives you time to work through emotion and negotiate an arrangement either directly, between lawyers or with the assistance of a mediator. It should also sound out whether you need the Court to intervene. A Court application takes some time to organise and comes with an associated cost and level of stress. Sadly many parents are left with no option but to make an emergency application on the eve of the holidays to secure contact, a situation that can be avoided with early advice and intervention. Early resolution also means you can tell the child how they will spend Christmas well in advance and relieve any anxiety they might be feeling.
Be willing to compromise: More often than not, both parents want to spend the lion’s share of Christmas Day with the child. There is no magic formula for resolving that conundrum and the law is not concerned about what is ‘fair’ or ‘equal’ for the adults. The focus is on what is in the best interests of the child. This broadly describes a child’s wellbeing and is determined by a range of factors including their age, level of maturity, experiences, relationships and specific care requirements. Children should be asked for their views but this should not be framed as asking them to ‘choose’ between parents. If discussions reach an impasse, taking legal advice on the type of arrangement a Court would endorse can help move things forward.
Be practical: Consider and agree the mechanics of the proposed arrangement. Who should be responsible for drop-off and collection? Where and when that should take place? Do the arrangements allow for quality time between the child and friends or family members in each parent’s Christmas bubble? Does dividing Christmas Day itself serve the child’s best interests if it involves a lot of travel between two homes? Is it more appropriate for one parent to have the child on Christmas Day, and the other parent to have them on Boxing Day? Should telephone or Facetime calls be facilitated between the child and the other parent while they are away?
Agree a Plan B: Many families across Scotland will require to self-isolate over the Christmas break. Planning for that eventuality will minimise the risk of arguments on or around Christmas day, when solicitors’ offices and the courts are closed. Could the parent who is not in isolation facilitate a “drive-by” visit at a pre-arranged time? Would a socially distanced visit in the garden be practical? Would a video call suffice? Will you agree to make up the lost time once the child is out of quarantine? Can gifts be given in a safe manner? Trust, as ever, is crucial. Parents should be willing to give evidence of their need to self-isolate (for example, a positive test result or alert from track and trace). Any attempt to “steal Christmas” under false pretences could be extremely damaging and would not wash well with the Court.
Be reliable: Be on time and abide by any specific arrangements put in place. This helps engender trust between parents and provides stability and consistency for the child. How you act now will set the tone for future dealings with the other parent.
Ashley McCann is a Senior Solicitor with Gillespie Macandrew
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