Q: Can I just demand to see my children?
A: If both parents have parental responsibility and there are no Court orders, then neither has greater rights than the other. Therefore the arrangements for the children should be made and agreed between the parents. If however an agreement cannot be reached you can try to reach an agreement through mediation. If this does not work an application can be made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to set out the arrangements for when each parent spends time with the children.
Q: I didn’t see them last year. Isn’t it my turn this year?
A: There are no hard and fast rules about Christmas contact but generally it is accepted that Christmas should be shared between the parents. Sometimes parents split Christmas Day although this can be problematic as it could mean the children leaving their presents and going to the other parent part way through the day. It is quite common to alternate Christmas Day from Christmas Eve but if the arrangement cannot be agreed then an application would have to be made to the court for the court to decide. Generally the courts would alternate Christmas Day between the parents but ultimately this is dependent upon the child’s best interests.
Q: Can I at least go round and see them even if they can’t spend the day with me?
A: This would be unusual with separated parents unless it is agreed by both of them because it will mean spending time in the property where the other parent is living. There can often be tensions around Christmas Day and therefore unless it is agreed this can be problematic.
Q: My ex said I could see my children at Christmas and now has changed their mind, can I do anything about this?
A: If the contact at Christmas is not agreed then an application will have to be made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to decide the arrangements over Christmas. It may be that a solicitor’s letter to try and agree the arrangements beforehand can enable an agreement to be reached or mediation may be successful in trying to reach an agreement.
Q:My children want to spend Christmas with me but my ex won’t allow it, is there anything I can do?
A: Again if matters cannot be agreed then an application for a Child Arrangements Order would need to be made. Childrens’ wishes and feelings can be one of the matters that are taken into consideration.
Q: I want to take my children on holiday/to a relative with me – do I need to get permission if its already been agreed that they spend Christmas with me?
A: Generally when the children are with you, you can use your parental responsibility to make whatever arrangements you feel is appropriate. However if you are taking the children out of England and Wales and you do not have an order that the children live with you then you would need the other parent’s permission to do so. For practical reasons if you are going further afield than the local area it would be right that the parent know where they are staying particularly in case of emergencies.
Q:My ex is taking my children away over Christmas, do I have a say about this?
A: It depends upon where they are going and why and what your objections are. If they are going abroad and your ex does not have an order that the children live with them then he/she would need your permission to take them outside England and Wales. If she is visiting relatives in England and Wales then generally that would be acceptable but it would be good practice though to let you know where she and the children would be in case of emergencies. If there is a reason that you object to where the children are going you could apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prohibit that but there would have to be a good reason to show that it was not in the children’s best interest to go to wherever your ex is taking them.
Q: My children are spending Christmas with my ex’s new boyfriend/girlfriend, can I do anything to challenge this?
A: Not if your ex is there as well unless there was a particular reason why it was not in the childrens’ best interests to be with this person. If for example there were issues around alcohol or drug misuse then a challenge could be made whereby you would apply to the court for a prohibited steps order. Other than that your ex is entitled to make whatever arrangements they feel fit and have whatever guests they wish to have around at Christmas.
Q: If I don’t think the current arrangements are fair how should I try and change things?
A: Firstly we would suggest that you consult a solicitor who would be able to advise you as to whether the arrangement would be considered reasonable or not by the court. Sometimes the arrangements can be agreed within correspondence or within mediation where you and your ex try to agree the arrangements. If these avenues are not successful then an application can be made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to set out the arrangements regarding the children.
If you would like any advice about child contact and arrangements, please contact a member of our Family Law team at any of the offices below.