Info & Advice

Can my ex stop me seeing my child at Christmas?

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Unfortunately, it is easy, and relatively common in the absence of a court order, for the parent with day-to-day care and control of a child, to be able to dictate when contact takes place. And this includes Christmas. Typically, a parent will unilaterally decide their ex isn’t seeing the children and fail to make the child available. So, what are your options? Read on to find out.

The law offers no specific provision for a non-resident parent to have Christmas contact with their children, but this does not confer a right for one parent over the other either. The problems commonly tend to arise in one of three ways:

  1. The resident parent is denying the non-resident parent contact with the child over Christmas period
  2. The resident parent is restricting contact with the non-resident parent and therefore frustrating Christmas contact
  3. The resident parent is saying the child doesn’t want to attend Christmas contact, even if there is an order in place saying they should do so

Family law in the UK is purely focused on the needs of the child, not those of the parent. It says that a child’s needs are best served by having a good relationship with both parents, and wider family. This is why neither parent has a right, or any priority, over the other to see their children at Christmas.

Seeing your children over Christmas

If you are no longer living with your children, the best way to get to see them over the holidays is by agreement with your ex. This may involve sharing the time between you on Christmas Day; for example, one has the morning, the other, the afternoon. Or you might agree to alternate Christmas Day with the child one year, then swap to the other parent, the following year. Unfortunately, if you’ve come to this article, you already know that life is rarely that simple, and reaching an amicable agreement is sometimes not possible.

Every child has the right to maintain a close and loving relationship with both parents, and it is everyone’s interest to reach a satisfactory resolution. If you cannot do this, then you could try mediation as a way of resolving your differences. Through this method, a trained mediator will help both parents reach an agreement about contact. If this fails, then there may be no alternative but to make an application to the court for the judge to decide.

Existing Child Arrangements Orders

If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place setting out the arrangements for your children, including over Christmas, unless there has been an order changing these terms, it will remain in place. Anyone breaching the terms of a Child Arrangements Order can be in contempt of court and be subject to sanctions, including a term of imprisonment in persistent cases.

If the Child Arrangements Order doesn’t specify Christmas arrangements, and you cannot agree with your ex, you can make an application to court to vary the Child Arrangements Order, so Christmas arrangements are defined. Alternatively, you can apply for the court for a Specific Issue Order. In both cases, you should address any potential Christmas issues early as this will allow you time to apply to court, if necessary.

What about the wider family?

Pressure from other family members to see the children can add an extra level of anxiety to an already powder keg situation. If you do get to see your children over Christmas, try to combine the time you have agreed to spend with them with your wider family visit. If that is not possible because of distance issues, for example, consider if you can alternate the years, seeing one set of wider family one year, and the other, the next. Whilst it is likely some will be disappointed, ask yourself if it is worth putting yourself and your children through all that additional stress, time, and angst.

Here are our tips for smooth Christmas contact:

  • Plan early

Planning early will allow both of you to consider and agree Christmas arrangements as soon as possible. This will avert last-minute issues and reduces the risk of disappointment. It also means that if you cannot reach an agreement, then you have the time to take the matter to court.

  • Maintain an open line of communication

Although communication between you may be problematic, it is important when you have children to ensure that open and honest communication is maintained. If direct communication is not possible, you could involve mediation or ask a neutral third party to intervene on your behalf.

  • Be flexible and willing to make compromises

Allow room in your Christmas schedule for unexpected changes and surprises when planning. Also, be willing to make compromises to reach agreements, as refusing to be open to compromise increases the risk of further breakdown in your relationship, which will ultimately impact on your time with the children.

  • Consider your children’s needs and views

Make sure that your children’s needs remain central to your plans. If your children are old enough, take their views on how they want to spend Christmas on board. However, if a court order is in place, then you must ensure it is adhered to, or returned to court, so the issue can be determined by the judge.

  • Set out your agreement in writing

This can be done in the form of a parenting plan or agreement and serves as a reference point. It will also help prevent misunderstandings throughout the Christmas period.

  • Keep a united front

Once you have agreed arrangements, be positive about them and keep a united front. Christmas is an important time in a child’s life and your decisions will affect their wellbeing and memories for a long time to come. You may start traditions that continue for many years that they will look back on with gratitude and fondness.

Many families successfully manage to establish Christmas arrangements that prioritise the children’s wellbeing. If you can do that, even if you are having to compromise under duress, or put the children’s needs above your own feelings, try to console yourself that you are doing the right thing. And that is surely what Christmas is all about.

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