Christmas contact during a pandemic

09/11/2020

As Christmas approaches separated or divorced parents often find the subject of contact with their children over Christmas challenging to resolve. In a pandemic, the question of balancing the welfare of the children and the restrictions imposed by government becomes even more difficult and confusing.

Current government guidance on spending time with your children

Children under 18 can be moved between separated parents’ homes. It does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The child’s parents must make this decision after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. A conciliatory approach evidenced in writing/text messages is going to be in the best interest of the child overall and safety should always come first.

If parents cannot agree to vary the arrangements either in an order or in an informal agreement then one parent can unilaterally vary the arrangement if they believe that to comply with the order/informal agreement would be against public health advice putting them and the child at risk. Certainly, if a court order is breached and there is a dispute later in court about this, then the court could assess if the parent acted reasonably and sensibly given the guidance and the circumstances of the case.

In the event that the arrangements for contact are varied by agreement or by one parent acting unilaterally you are expected to provide alternative arrangements to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by FaceTime, WhatsApp video calling, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.

Contact during Christmas

Given the above guidance spending time with children over the Christmas period will be tough. Therefore, we set out a guide of how best to approach the holidays:

  1. Tell you children about the plans – it is important to ensure that your children know what is happening. Arrangements need to be clearly explained to the children so that there is no room for ambiguity or disappointment.
  2. .Meet their needs – the needs of infants, toddlers and younger children can be very different to those of teenagers. Consider the age of your children when considering how best to arrange contact over Christmas.
  3. Forward planning – planning Christmas contact is key but during a pandemic when the rules are ever changing this is critical to ensure nobody misses out on spending Christmas with the children. If you and your ex-partner can communicate directly this is often best. Clear communication by phone or email is often key to making the arrangements work.
  4. Think about day to day matters – will the days during Christmas be broken up or will the weeks be split in blocks of time with each parent? Consider how these arrangements can impact on other family members and other children with whom your children regularly spend time with over Christmas.
  5. Travelling abroad – if travel abroad is required ensure that both parents have contact and all the travel details. It is also advisable to set up indirect contact with the other parent through telephone, FaceTime or Zoom.
  6. Discuss presents – one of the most upsetting things for children is to receive duplicate presents over Christmas. Ensure that this issue is sorted out properly. Consider who is buying what. Consider whether joint presents are appropriate.

More informationIf you require any assistance in arranging Christmas contact with your children, please contact our Family Team who will be more than happy to assist.   

This article was written by Kiren Dhillon, Senior Associate in the Family Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of November 2020.

09/11/2020

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