For most, Christmas is a wonderful time of the year and an opportunity to spend quality time with the family. It can also be an incredibly emotional time of the year, particularly for those parents who are no longer together.
One of the most difficult things for separating parents can be making contact arrangements for Christmas, because it is of course natural for both parents to want to spend Christmas with their children.
Some parents can make contact arrangements quite easily; however, for others the process can be more difficult, particularly when separation has only recently occurred or where there are logistical issues to overcome.
It is important that in the run up to Christmas, any potential difficulties with arrangements are identified as soon as possible and early advice sought where necessary.
If you already have a Child Arrangements Order made by the court, then the arrangements for Christmas should already be clearly set out. If not, or there is any doubt over those arrangements taking place, you should discuss these with your former partner as soon as possible.
If you do not have a Child Arrangements Order in place, again it is important that where possible you discuss matters with your former partner to try and see if arrangements can be agreed.
If you are unable to resolve issues, or difficulties arise with regards to an existing order, then you may need to make an application to the court.
It is now a requirement for anyone wishing to issue court proceedings to meet with a mediator for an initial meeting, known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, prior to issuing any application to the court. The requirement to attend this meeting can be waived in only limited and exceptional circumstances. Failure to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting could result in the court refusing to deal with your application until this requirement has been fulfilled. This is something that you will need to take account of when contemplating any application to the court, as it can take at least two weeks to arrange an appointment with a mediator.
In the run-up to Christmas, the courts are likely to have a huge number of cases to deal with, and therefore if an application is required you should consider making this at the earliest opportunity, otherwise the court may not be able to hear your case and make a decision in time for Christmas. Even if there are other issues to resolve with regards to arrangements for your children, the court can deal with Christmas as a standalone issue and, if necessary, make an interim decision dealing with Christmas arrangements for this year only.
While it is always better to resolve matters amicably, it is essential that if you feel there are going to be difficulties relating to Christmas arrangements, you seek advice as soon as possible.
Your solicitor will be able to advise you with regards to Mediation Information and Assessment meetings, mediation or referring your case to court if this becomes necessary.