As Christmas approaches we delve into the emotional issue of deciding child contact for separated families on ‘big’ dates on the calendar.
Seperation is never easy on children, especially around those ‘big’ family, get together calendar dates such as Christmas.
With the festive period being the time that families traditionally spend together, it all too often sparks high emotions for parents who have split up but still want to spend as much time as possible with their children.
At Gibson Kerr, we are a firm who firmly believe in the values of a family – so with this in mind, we always hope to guide people away from conflict, especially in areas where children are involved.
It’s easy to see how the conflict can arise: one parent may have residence of the child, whereas another has contact as part of the separation settlement. It can then easily lead to an unfortunate position whereby the parent with residence seeks to block the parent who has contact, from having contact with their child on Christmas Day for a myriad of reasons. And, of course, it is the child who is left at the centre of an unpleasant contentious issue.
The best advice is always to avoid this problem and for requests for changes in rights to be resolved well in advance of the festive period, in particular to ensure there are no delays or difficulties caused by changing courts hours and solicitors going on holiday.
How can this be avoided?
We’d look to advise clients to come up with an agreement with the other parent for potential changes in arrangement. This can cover a range of options; parents could swap on opposite years of who has the child for a full day, they could split the day or swap over on a yearly calendar of Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning and Christmas Afternoon and Boxing Day.
This works for a lot of families. However, no family is the same. Sadly, there may be some underlying conflict which may see a parent always seek to deny contact outwith any pre-existing agreement.
Can I change my contact agreement?
If a parent is determined to request a certain time to have contact with a child and agreement with the other parent isn’t possible, there is the opportunity to seek resolution through legal action. It would involve meeting with a solicitor and instructing them to pursue an application in the courts for contact during the festive period.
However, this costs money and can lead to unpleasantness between parents.
Inevitably, incidents where one party has failed to follow a legal instruction, happen during the holiday period. This brings problems as people can’t reach their solicitor during the festive shutdown, especially in the case of family law solicitors. This can often lead to disagreements being left unresolved and causing them to run well into the end of the festive period and past Hogmanay.
For a parent who has been refused a court ordered contact, the only legal recourse available is to go back to court – once the festive season is over – to begin civil proceedings. But by then, the whole point of the exercise – to try to have their children for Christmas – is past and lost.
Make no mistake however, if someone contravenes an agreement from the court with regards to contact or residence, it can be considered contempt of court and it can see the parent who is in contravention of the order fined or, in very serious cases, imprisoned. That is a course of action which clearly in no way helps the child – or indeed the family for the long-term.
This all leads us to advise that the sensible route is to come to an amicable and clear agreement as early as possible on a new arrangement with a child outwith the original settlement. Where this isn’t possible, look to instruct a lawyer who is skilled in family law to commence a formal legal negotiation.
Here at Gibson Kerr, we operate an emergency hotline throughout the Christmas period dealing with a number of issues including residence and contact issues.
If you are currently faced with the prospect of not being able to have contact with a child over the festive period, we’re on hand to speak to you and guide you through your rights and responsibilities.
Conflict is never conducive to a positive family atmosphere– remember that and look to make an agreement.
To get in touch with our expert team call us on 0131 202 7516 in Edinburgh or 0141 404 0436 in Glasgow.