Not everyone thinks about Christmas in September, but before we know it’s Halloween and then, suddenly, we are exchanging Secret Santa gifts. I do love Christmas.
Hopefully, Christmas this year will be different from the one we experienced last year. No circuit lockdowns, no restrictions and no rule of six – phew!
Many people will want this year’s celebrations to make-up for what we all had to endure in the last 18 months or so. This will be a perfect occasion to spend this magical time with the family.
But Christmas can be a difficult time, especially for separated parents who very often do not agree on the Christmas arrangements for their children. In the event that the arrangements are not mutually agreed between the parents, seeking legal advice from a family solicitor may assist. This is a perfect way to know your rights as a parent and discuss the best way forward.
Difficulties with contact arrangements do not have to go straight to Court. The parties should attempt to resolve the issues amicably. Sometimes it is worth starting with sending a letter which outlines contact proposals and, if this does not resolve the matter, then the parties will be, in most cases, referred to mediation. If the matters cannot be resolved amicably, Court proceedings may have to be issued.
Sometimes, of course, the amicable way of resolving these issues is not possible due to domestic abuse between the parties and/or any safeguarding concerns. Therefore, in those circumstances, the matter, has to be considered by the Court.
It is worth knowing that the issue of contact between the parents and their children is rarely an urgent matter for the Court. This means that the parties can wait between 6 to 8 weeks for the first hearing where the contact arrangements can be discussed and adjudicated upon. Hence my advice is to start thinking about these issues now.
Before the first hearing takes place, the Children and Family Court Advisor and Support Service (CAFCASS) will undertake safeguarding checks to outline any potential or actual risk of harm to the children. CAFCASS will conduct telephone interviews with the parties and perform checks with the police and local authorities. After undertaking all the necessary enquiries, a CAFCASS officer will prepare a Safeguarding Letter where potential contact arrangements may be recommended.
Sometimes, the first hearing is dealt with ‘on paper’ between a CAFCASS officer and the Court without the parties attending the hearing. If this happens, then the first time that the parties may appear in Court may be some months later.
Therefore, even though we are only in September, it is worth considering making some arrangements for Christmas contact now. Don’t delay! This will allow plenty of time to consider the amicable ways of resolving the issues but also, hopefully, secure enough time to issue the Court proceedings, if necessary. Resolving matters amicably is usually far cheaper and faster.