Whilst I advise regularly on the resolution of financial matters upon parties separating, I am also frequently asked to advise about arrangements for children. As in all areas of my practice, communication and considering compromises is key.
However, Christmas and New Year can be a particularly difficult time of year when disputes over arrangements for children during the festive holidays escalate as it is such an important period for families to spend time together.
Under the Children Act 1989, the child’s welfare is paramount and there are a number of factors that the court needs to consider amongst other matters is the child’s wishes and feelings, which in reality is about parties listening to what the child is asking.
The older a child is, the more weight a child’s voice will carry. Often though, a child’s voice will be lost when one or both parent’s own wishes are put before their child’s.
This can be understandable when parties themselves, for example are entering into the unknown as single parents and struggling to deal with a very difficult period in their own lives, though, I will frequently hear one parent accusing the other of falsely stating that it is not the child’s wish but that other parent’s wish to limit time. In my experience, it is not and can just be a child who is anxious about not wanting to upset a parent because the child wants to spend time elsewhere so expresses their wish through a parent.
This raises the issue that if there is good communication not only between parties but also between parent and child, such as their wishes and feelings, a lot of mistrust and misunderstandings can be minimised. Communication is key along with good planning. In most aspects of life, planning helps. Last minute requests do not and one parent may be disappointed because arrangements have already been put in place because they have not conveyed their wish in good time.
I appreciate for some families, court is the only option to resolve issues but a couple of tips from my perspective to avoid that route include:
- Good communication also involves listening to what another person or the child may have to say and try to consider a compromise or propose an alternative arrangement.
- Planning arrangements in advance is key. There is no need to sort arrangements last minute unless there is an emergency.
- If a dispute cannot be resolved, then seek dispute resolution or court intervention well in advance rather than on Christmas Eve (believe me I have been there and Judges take a very dim view of this).
Ultimately, your child will be the most precious gift you will ever receive, and all they want is to be loved and happy.
Not getting caught up in conflict because of poor communication can often be the greatest gift you can give to your child who will just want to spend time with their families without feeling caught in the middle.