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’Tis the season…

The festive period is traditionally a busy time of year for family law practitioners. This is typically as a result of issues which arise for clients relating to care arrangements for their children over the holiday season. Such issues can be stressful for parents and children alike.
Whilst Christmas holidays tend to be particularly emotive, the difficulties are not confined to the Christmas period but can easily be applied to holiday care arrangements generally. Problems are usually caused by the break in the care routine which is in place for the rest of the year, sometimes prompted by breaks in the school calendar or by one parent’s wish to travel elsewhere with the children. There may be trust issues between the parties. Whatever the reason, such holiday periods can cause worry and uncertainty. They can also have financial implications if disputes cannot be resolved and lawyers become involved.
Planning ahead and communication between separated parents are usually the key components when it comes to agreeing holiday care arrangements. Where a separation is fairly recent and those involved are in the early stages of establishing a care routine, it can be useful to consider the creation of a holiday plan.  This can often be overlooked in the midst of a stressful separation or divorce action.  The attempt to put in place such a schedule at an early point by one parent may also give an early indication of a likely dispute and provide sufficient time to ask the court to make a decision in the absence of agreement, if appropriate.
There is no formula for holiday contact which will fit all families. The regularity and length of holiday time spent with each parent will differ from family to family as will the requirement for detail in the holiday arrangements. For some families, it will be sufficient for separated parents to agree to a general division of the holiday calendar so that there is an expectation, particularly important for children, about how much of any holiday period will be spent with each parent. In other high conflict cases or where geography poses a problem, it might be necessary to make more detailed provision in a holiday schedule about the practicalities of holiday contact (e.g. transport, costs, timing and arrangements for collection and drop off, clothes required during holidays or commitments of the children during holiday time etc).  Again, there is no set formula for this but will depend on what works best for those involved. 
Where children are of sufficient maturity, it will often be appropriate for separated parents to canvass their views on the care arrangements over holidays. In addition, as children grow older, their needs and wishes will change. A rigid commitment to a holiday schedule as the years go by will therefore not always be appropriate or indeed possible.
Forward planning and communication between separated parents will not be an option in every case, of course. Where attempts have been made to agree holiday arrangements with no result, lawyers may become involved. In the absence of agreement, it may be appropriate to ask the court to make a decision about holidays. This might be a decision about holidays generally or there may be a dispute about a specific holiday proposed, particularly an issue where one parent wishes to travel abroad. Where the court is asked to make a decision concerning the care arrangements for holiday periods, as with other decisions concerning children, the main focus will be on the best interests of the children involved. This will not always be clear-cut and separated parents may have very polarised ideas of what is best for their children.
The involvement of solicitors and the court is likely to put pressure on all involved, not least children. It can be difficult for children to enjoy holidays fully where they are aware of tensions surrounding the holiday periods. Pragmatism is generally to be encouraged as it is usually better for all concerned (and particularly for children) if an agreement can be reached. Not only will that potentially save on costs and stress, but perhaps most importantly, it will  set the right tone and environment for the holidays themselves.
For information or guidance relating to the issues highlighted above or indeed other family law matters, please contact Karen Gibbons or Shona Smith.