The noise and jollity of Christmas – and its connotations as a ‘family’ celebration – can put an unwelcome strain on divorced or separated parents when it comes to working out where the children will spend the holidays, particularly if it’s the first time families have had to face the issue.
Rather than waiting for things to go wrong, and potentially ruining the magic of Christmas, advice from family lawyer Deborah Johnson from London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen is to understand where you both stand legally, to be clear and open about any plans and prepared to discuss them early.
“It is important to avoid conflict and ensure that the Christmas holidays are as much fun as they should be,” Deborah says. “That means making sure the scenario does not arise where one parent announces to the children they are whisking them off to a snowy Winter Wonderland and the other parent says no.”
Deborah, who works as a mediator as well as a family lawyer says she often sees separated parents clash when they experience the Christmas holidays for the first time.
They may have worked out how the children divide their time between them during the year, but then one parent books a Christmas holiday without realising they usually need permission from the other parent to take their children out of the country.
The first step for separated parents – whether or not they were ever married – is to agree between themselves any plans well in advance of booking anything so that everyone knows where they stand and has full details of any proposal.
“This also gives both parents the chance to work out the practicalities such as handing over passports and belongings and to ensure children, excited about a holiday, are not disappointed when plans are blocked. It also means the parent left at home is clear exactly where the children are going, has contact details to communicate with them when they’re away, and knows exactly how the holiday impacts their allotted time with the children” Deborah says.
If discussions break down or parents cannot agree, mediation is available to try to reach a written decision in advance and prevent problems escalating and ending up in court. Courts tend to become involved in this kind of scenario when they are asked to provide permission for children to leave the jurisdiction because the other party objects, or to protect a child from the risk of abduction, which is a criminal offence.
If parents cannot agree between themselves, unless it is an emergency, the courts will not get involved until both parties have attended a MIAM (mediation information assessment meeting). Before making a decision, a judge will then likely want to know the details of any parental agreements and will ask for information such as proposed holiday dates, contact details of holiday accommodation and the country involved.
Mostly, working out holiday arrangements is common sense and hopefully parents can agree among themselves how the school holidays will work. But certain situations may require urgent legal advice and for orders to be put in place to provide a decision and ensure security.
“Hopefully, it will not come to this and the holidays will run smoothly” Deborah says. “But the law is there to protect children if parents really cannot agree or if one parent is worried about a child’s security.”
For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack or Nicola Pearson at Black Letter Communications
020 3567 1208
Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen, recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by Solicitors Journal.
- For 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016, the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.