Christmas Contact – how to best approach this tricky situation

Peace on Earth? Most of us would settle for peace within our own four walls. This, the first of our two part series looks at how best to plan ahead to avoid any issues with contact between children and parents with whom they don’t reside.

We appreciate that Christmas holidays are a difficult time when it comes to arranging contact between children and their parents with whom they don’t reside. To assist, the school holiday dates are as undernoted – if your child attends school out with these areas, you should check those holiday dates.

West Lothian: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Tuesday, 7th January 2020
Falkirk: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Tuesday, 7th January 2020
Edinburgh: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Thursday, 9th January 2020
Clackmannanshire: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Monday, 6th January 2020
Stirling: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Monday, 6th January 2020
Glasgow: School ends on Thursday, 19th December 2019 and resume on Monday, 6th January 2020
North Lanarkshire: School ends on Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Monday, 6th January 2020
South Lanarkshire: School ends Friday, 20th December 2019 and resume on Monday, 6th January 2020

So, how best to approach the tricky topic of Christmas Contact? Ideally this should be discussed and agreed between the parents/carers direct and your solicitor should only be contacted where no agreement is possible.

Where there is a Court order in place, the timings of this order would apply to the Christmas period in the same way as to any other time of the year unless the court decided to vary that order to address the Christmas/New Year period. It is for you to apply these timings to a calendar and identify whether any issues arise. If you agree an alternative arrangement for this period then let your solicitor know and they can confirm this with the solicitors for the other side so that there is a record of what has been agreed. Whether this can be addressed by only an exchange of letters or whether a formal change to the Court order is needed depends on the circumstances applying to your case and should be discussed with your solicitor as soon as possible.

Where there is no Court order in place, Christmas Contact should be agreed between you. If unsatisfied with the negotiations, it is possible to commence proceedings on a private client basis and have a hearing assigned to address this before Christmas. However, as Legal aid Applications take many months to resolve, we will not be able to commence a court action in time for Christmas where proceeding with the benefit of legal aid so our advice is try to avoid and sort it out between you.

As for how courts deal with Christmas contact – Hogmanay and New Year’s Day are usually ordered to take place in a similar way to Christmas Day – as all family circumstances are different and views vary from Sheriff to Sheriff and case to case, it is difficult to predict accurately what orders will be granted by the Courts. Having said this, over the years experience tells us that:

• for some cases the non-resident parent is allowed contact on Christmas Day for a certain period or sometimes only on Boxing day;

• for other cases the non-resident parent is allowed contact from Christmas Eve into Christmas morning or from late on Christmas day into Boxing Day with this arrangement alternating between parents each year thereby allowing a child to wake up to their presents in each parent’s home every other year; and

• for some cases where the residential parent has other children in their home unrelated to the parent exercising Contact – i.e. step-brothers and sisters – it is perceived to be unfair on a child to be separated from their brothers and sisters on Christmas morning. In such circumstances, the Court may consider it more acceptable for contact to take place later on Christmas day – perhaps for a short period – or the following day for a longer period.

In recent years a significant proportion of Sheriffs are favouring that a child spends Christmas day with one parent and Boxing Day with another parent, effectively allowing the child to have two Christmas Days rather than spending time with both parents on Christmas Day. However, as outlined, what is ordered usually depends upon the particular Sheriff which is why nothing can be guaranteed when resorting to the Court for a Christmas contact order. Therefore in our experience it is better to achieve the certainty of an early agreement with the other parent rather than have the Court decide something which suits neither parent.

If you require any assistance please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 005 1755 and ask to speak to a member of our Family Law Team or email us on [email protected]