Coping with shared contact at Christmas – who gets the children?

In a panic over where your children will spend Christmas? That’s why it’s important to seek advice on your rights and the best way to make contact arrangements for your children.

Why not ask the children what they want and get them to write it down? Get a lawyer involved to hear what they would like and address what they want.

Before you make a decision on your holiday parenting schedule, hiring a lawyer is a good starting point when it comes to negotiation.

If you’re unsure about Christmas contact, ask the kids. Children in Scotland as young as five years old are now eligible to have their say on their own custody rights with an amended court form.

Form F9, the controversial court form for intimation to a child, has been replaced to ensure meaningful participation by children and young people in family law actions.

Our solicitors can act as a third party ‘mediator’ if you’re looking to come to an agreement with a former spouse or partner without running into arguments.

Form F9.

Ross Baron, a trainee solicitor at Watermans Legal, advises: “When the clients can’t agree, that’s when we can come in as mediators.  Another option is to draft a formal agreement that regulates holiday and Christmas contact going forward.

“In the event that parties cannot agree, a  court would have to make a decision – that’s a last resort when the parents can’t agree. Ultimately then it would be what’s in the best interest of the child and also takes the decision away from the parties, not always providing a satisfactory outcome.

“Where parties are able to agree on contact, we could regulate it by drafting a “Minute of Agreement” that way it’s enforceable and also gives each party and the children certainty.

“If there’s any fall out or agreement can’t be reached, we can advise on the legal implications going forward. What’s the likelihood that a court might grant an order? What is the court process? But before all that we’d act as a mediator and try to find a solution for all parties and more importantly, what’s going to benefit the children.”

If you’re looking at shared contact, you should also try to make the arrangements as far in advance as you can, as doing so last minute can make the entire process needlessly more stressful.

Other considerations are what the pattern of contact has been like previously. Is it the first year? If so, then it could be a week each and then each year after that it could be split between the parents equally.

“You should also be creative – one might have the kids at Christmas and the other might New Year,” says our co-director Donald Wright.

“The courts get busier during Christmas so it’s important to have plans set in place in plenty of advance.

“The best advice that we can give is to put it through the children’s eyes – put aside any bickering and think how you can help the kids.

“Why not ask the children what they want and get them to write it down? Get a lawyer involved to hear what they would like and address what they want.

“People split the time in all sorts of ways. It’s all about compromise and planning it so that everybody gets a shot at Christmas and New Year.”

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Posted by Lisa Boyle