Children, Covid and Christmas

Christmas is looking very different for everyone this year. Even without Covid, Christmas is a stressful time of year for families. As we come out of a second lockdown and enter into a tiered system more and more are dreading discussing the finer points of contact at Christmas.

Separated parents are always actively encouraged to try and agree on contact arrangements outside of the Court, parents are best placed to make decisions for their children rather than the Court. But sometimes this just isn’t possible.

If an agreement is reached, then it may be worthwhile putting the agreement in writing so that the plans are clear and to ensure that there are no crossed wires or miscommunication. Many parents use a shared calendar to make a clear plan as to who the children will be spending time with and when and any important events that are coming up. There are some good apps online for this.

When coming to an agreement the priority should be that the children get to spend as much quality time as possible with both parents. If one parent spends Christmas Day with the children, it is normal for the other parent to have another day as “their Christmas.”

What if there is already a Court Order in place?

If there has previously been a dispute over contact it is likely that there will be a Court Order in place which directs who spends time with the children and when, this will normally detail Christmas contact details. The guidance from the Family Court is that even though we are in the midst of a pandemic if the exact Court Order cannot be followed then the spirit of the order should be.

Children from separated families are allowed to move between homes. This is not to say that children must move between homes, if one parent has sufficient concerns that it is not safe for a child to move between homes then they do not have to do so. However, if this is in breach of a Court order or if the parents are unable to agree a variation to the order then Court intervention may be needed. Due to the pandemic, the Family Courts are unprecedentedly busy and the Courts would not look favourably on a parent who has failed to act reasonably or sensibly and the is a risk that the Court could order for the time one parent has missed to be made up.

Many parents who have had to self-isolate have been using indirect contact by way of Facetime, Zoom or Skype but what has been made clear is that this is no substitute to the child spending time with the parent.

What to do if you cannot reach an agreement

If the parents cannot agree to how Christmas should be shared, then it may be worth considering mediation. In mediation, an independent third party would help the parents reach an agreement. Mediation is not for all parents but it is something that is worth exploring as it is considerably cheaper than Court proceedings and needs to be tried before an application to Court can be made. Given the pressures on the Court at present the President of the Family Division has made it clear that alternative forms of dispute resolution should be explored.

If Court proceedings are necessary then an application will take many weeks to be listed for a hearing so I am afraid you would be too late to deal with Christmas this year.

Who can form part of your Christmas bubble?

We have all heard the phrase “bubble” by now but it is still a confusing phrase. The Government has provided guidance as to who can be in your “bubble” but there are two key rules concerning children:

  1. Support: If you are a single-adult household living with children (who are under 18) then you can form a “support bubble” with another household so long as they are not part of a support bubble with anyone else. This is in addition to the normal “bubble” and to the “bubble” that includes the child’s other parent. If you have formed a support bubble since 14 September 2020 then you cannot change the support bubble.
  2. Childcare: There are a number of legally permitted childcare bubbles including registered childcare there are also exemptions for informal childcare. This is where one household provides unpaid/unregistered childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household such as grandparents or another family member. But there must always be a bubble between the same two households.

The Government have recently announced that households are allowed to mix with three other households between the periods of 23rd December – 27th December. Families will have to nominate two other households who they plan to “bubble” with. Children of separated parents will be able to move between Christmas “bubbles”.

It has been confirmed that existing support bubbles count as one household towards the three-household limit

Between the 23 – 27 December, you can also continue to use the childcare bubble but only if reasonably necessary for the purposes of childcare and where there are no reasonable alternatives. However, if you want to meet socially with the other household in your childcare bubble then you should include them in your Christmas bubble.

Christmas can cause all manner of stress, one way of alleviating some of it regarding children issues is by simply thinking what is the in the best interest of the children.

We are here to help support and guide you through an already confusing time. If you require any further assistance or advice then please do contact the Family Team to arrange a free consultation.

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