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Managing Director Rita Gupta looks at the emotions and logistics involved in successful co-parenting during the festive season, and how planning in advance can help you enjoy the holidays without worry.

2021 hasn’t turned out the way many of us may have hoped, and COVID is still very much with us. For newly-single parents who have divorced or separated during 2021, this first Christmas as a family apart will inevitably be very different from last year’s bubble meet-ups too.

With some requirements reintroduced as we approach Christmas period, there is still a degree of uncertainty as to whether further rules will be imposed before Christmas.

That uncertainty underpins the need to make formal arrangements for children over the holiday period, including which parent they will spend each day of the holiday with. These arrangements should also include a robust Plan B to cover possible scenarios such as:

  • a case of COVID in the immediate family
  • a requirement to self-isolate after contact with a person with the Omicron variant
  • protecting vulnerable family members if required
  • agreements over lateral flow tests for children before changing households

 

Christmas child arrangements and your family

Now is the time for separated parents to plan their Christmas child arrangements for the statutory holiday period, covering both the weekday Bank Holidays in between Christmas and New Year, pus New Year’s Day.

In addition, separated parents should also make arrangements for the rest of the school holidays, and check exactly when they end. In West Berkshire, for example, schools return on Wednesday 5th January, whereas in Hampshire. schools restart on Tuesday 4th January 2022.

 

What separated parents are concerned about at Christmas

The good news is, if you find all this a little daunting, you are not alone. Most newly-single parents share three main concerns:

As a separated parent, it’s important to take time to consider what you feel about all these three points and which are your priorities.

In addition, give the possibility of increased viral transmission in enclosed spaces, you may want to think about:

  • Number of people/households in your home at one time
  • Priorities in terms of who you want to visit and when
  • Availability of local testing, just in case
  • Possibility that one parent, grandparent or one child may need to self-isolate

The key is to lay out your plans now that cover most eventualities, so you can be flexible if required.

Who gets the kids? Christmas Day arrangements

Most resident parents want their children to spend Christmas Day at their home - and the absent parent wants exactly the same thing too. As a newly-separated parent, you may be deciding between two options:

  • Alternating who has the children on the day itself, one year with their resident parent, the next year with their absent parent
  • Sharing the day, each having the children for half the day

Whilst for some, sharing the day works out just fine, for other recently separated couple the ‘this year, next year’ option is the better of the two. Many single parents simply do not want to see their ex-partner on Christmas Day itself, as it can raise so many unwanted emotions.

 

Can I afford Christmas?

Or more often, can I afford to spend as much as my ex probably will? This is an issues that many separated parents worry about, especially if they don’t earn as much as their ex-partner. The current economic climate may also have adversely affected one parent more than the other. Purchasing a joint present given from both of you is both budget-friendly and a positive display of co-parenting that sets the trend moving forward. A modest budget for stocking gifts and treats can also prevent costs spiraling out of control, or devaluing the joint gift.

 

I want to see them open their presents

If there is one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that we are all so much more comfortable with video calls. So, make the most of this, and share in those magical paper-ripping moments via a pre-arranged video call. Make sure this includes all the family including grandparents and extended family. With video calls, there are no worries over the number of people physically allowed in one home, and you can open your presents from the kids on the same call too.

 

How to make your Christmas child arrangements

Making and agreeing Christmas child arrangements doesn’t need to involve endless phone calls, text messages, and email ping pong. This communication overload can be emotionally draining and with so many different messaging formats, lead to potential misunderstanding.

Much simpler to create a Christmas child arrangement letter, which sets down in writing what the arrangements are. Created with the help of a family lawyer such as ourselves, this letter simply pins down the details so you both know what’s happening when and where. Both of you can then agree to it, saving time and stress.

 

Make time for yourself

Remember, your first separated Christmas is not all about the children. This year, make space in your diary to enjoy the things you love about the season. Meet up with friends either virtually or in person as allowed, take a couple of days away, or just relax at home in peace and quiet. Start new traditions for yourself and your children for future Christmases when COVID-19 will have become a distant memory.

Contact LGFL to create and finalise your Christmas child arrangement letter:

It’s probably one of the biggest issues amongst separated parents with children; who will the kids spend Christmas Day with?

It’s tempting to think that dividing the day between your two homes is the fairest option. However, moving children from one location to another on Christmas Day itself, even just a few miles apart, is fraught with practical and emotional issues that might outweigh the benefits.

Instead, many separated couples decide to alternate who has the children on Christmas Day, and who has them on Boxing Day. It’s an arrangement that eliminates the challenges of you changing location on such a significant day and ultimately allows you all to have more time together.

Your children can relax too, knowing that they will see their other parent tomorrow for a second day of Christmas fun!

To help you decide, LGFL’s Managing Director Rita Gupta shares her “Christmas Day Split Pros and Cons” list for separated parents, grandparents and extended family.

 

 

Pro

Con

Kids see both parents on Christmas Day. You have to see your ex on Christmas Day…

 

You both give them their presents on the same day.

 

Grumpy kids who want to play with presents but can’t because they are at the other house.

 

Each of you has separate time with the kids.

 

Competition between parents for “best” part of the day. For example, who gets the morning stockings or afternoon walk?

 

You each get half the day to yourself / with your new partner.

 

New partners and family have less time with you. Much of that half day could be spent travelling in between households. Grandparents may feel excluded.

 

Splitting the day keeps it fair for everyone, every year. Sharing the day gives no ‘wriggle room’ for potential disruption by weather, COVID, etc.

 

Children are at their resident parent’s home for part of the day. Children can’t see local friends on the day because they haven’t got time.

 

Positive example of co-parenting if goes smoothly.

 

Negative example if it ends up with arguments between you two over minor details or late arrivals due to traffic.

 

You shared the costs and preparation of meals.

 

You buy and prepare two Christmas dinners for kids who are not hungry or feeling fractious after rushed family meals.

 

Grandparents can be with the kids in their own adult child’s home. Conflicts of interest for grandparents if they get on well with both of you.

 

Children get two parts to their Christmas Day.

 

Children spend too much time travelling in the car and too little time enjoying themselves.

 

Parents can relax and enjoy a drink or two at lunch. Not if you’ve got the children for the morning and need to get them to their other parent’s home. Could lead to disputes over who does the driving and who does the drinking.

 

Kids can enjoy the journey between homes.

 

Only if one or both parents have a car. Public transport doesn’t run on Christmas Day. Taxis will be prohibitively expensive, if available at all.

 

Kids spend Christmas in the UK. Parents can’t take children away for a break or to visit family abroad over the Christmas holiday.

 

Christmas and coercive control

Sadly, Christmas can often be used by less cooperative ex-partners as a bargaining chip. Arrangements for the entire period can also be used as a method of coercive control to cause as much upset as possible at an emotional time. Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse in law. If you feel you are being manipulated by an ex-partner after separation, do contact us for advice and to discuss practical ways to prevent this.

 

Still not sure what to do?

If they are old enough, ask your children. If you include them in making the plans, you already have them onside for the day itself. Discuss this with your ex-partner too; they may not have as strong views on this as you expect, or have other commitments to work around.

Once you’ve decided between you, get that agreement down in writing so it’s (literally) signed and sealed well before Christmas. If you can’t agree, we can draft a Child Arrangement letter that you can both sign up to if required. Your letter should always include a Plan B just in case circumstances change, such as a case of COVID in the family, adverse weather or (heaven forbid) a last-minute lockdown imposed by the government…

 

Need a child arrangement letter?

Contact us to get Christmas child arrangements settled and agreed well in advance of Santa’s arrival.

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Director Rita Gupta shares her ideas for stress-free Christmas present buying for separated families.

Christmas is always an emotive time for separated families, especially when it comes to buying Christmas presents for the children. As a separated parent, it’s all too easy to try and outdo the other parent, or over-compensate for the family no longer living together. However, this can lead to unnecessary tensions and feelings of resentment, not to mention the temptation to overspend when you or your ex-partner may not have the financial resources.

 

Joint Christmas presents

A simple but effective way to avoid this kind of conflict is to collaborate on a joint Christmas present list between you. Children can write their wish lists as usual, and it’s made clear that both parents will buy the main presents jointly. You can them divide the cost of the presents between the two of you, saving money for both in the process.

This joint effort sends a clear message to the children that regardless of how you as parents may feel towards each other, they (the children) are always your top priority. It also shows the kids that their parents can and will work together on the fun stuff as well as the day to day routine, which can be very reassuring.

In the long term, Christmas gift sharing between parents can also help promotes equality in an increasingly materialistic world. If presents, gifts and ‘treats’ become ways to try to gain favour with your children, that is a slippery slope. Far better to show that, as parents, you can work together to buy something really special just for them.

As a parent myself, I firmly believe this promotes genuine gratitude and good values in your children, rather than an expectation of a mass of presents with precious little meaning. It also takes into account that generally, after a separation, some financial cutbacks will have to be made, and this can save parents money.

 

“This one is from me”

There is still plenty of scope for individual presents in a Christmas Eve box or stocking from each parent. This can contain the small presents that reflect what each parent enjoys doing with that child, or something they’ve seen when out and about together. Again, perhaps parents should cooperate on a spending limit for stockings, to avoid the temptation to slip just a few more things into the box…

Written agreement letters from LGFL

If you’re struggling to agree with your ex on this or any other agreements, we can help. We can write a letter laying out a simple agreement that the other parent can agree to and sign up to. Having an impartial third party suggesting an arrangement is often sufficient to cement an agreement rather than a string of email negotiations, phone calls or texts. Call us now if we can help – 01189 735521.

We can also do the same for child arrangements over the Christmas and New Year period, so that you both can plan which days you have the kids, which days they might go to grandparents or relatives for a big family get-together, and which days you can spend at your leisure. After all, we all need a little break during Christmas!

Again, just give us a call to discuss your situation. The sooner you call, the sooner you can get Christmas sorted, and start to enjoy the holiday season.

Children at Christmas

An updated article for Christmas 2019 to include the possible impact of the General Election 2019 and an early Brexit in 2020.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. So if you haven't done so already, you need to sort out your child arrangements for the Christmas holidays 2019, pronto.

As a separated or divorced parent, it's important to agree who looks after the children in advance, to give everyone involved time to prepare. Child arrangements over any holiday period takes careful planning and a fair degree of cooperation. The Christmas holidays come with an extra layer of emotional pressure, from where the children will be on Christmas Day itself, to issues over shared costs.

Christmas holidays are longer this year

Due to the way Christmas dates fall in 2019, with Christmas Day on a Wednesday, there is a clear two-week Christmas holiday period when many businesses will shut their doors. We expect many to follow the state school closure dates and shut on Friday 20th December 2019 for two weeks until Monday 6th January 2020. However, in the current climate, not every business may wish to close for as long, and equally, not every working parent will be able to take all this time off. That's why making child arrangements as early as possible will help everyone plan for a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday period.

The state school term dates vary too between our own ‘home’ area of Reading, and our neighbouring counties:

  • Reading: autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • West Berkshire: autumn terms ends Thursday 19th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • Hampshire: autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020
  • Surrey:  autumn terms ends Friday 20th December 2019, spring term starts Monday 6th January 2020

Private schools tend to take a further week, either before or after Christmas. These differences in school term dates are another reason to make arrangements now, especially if you live in a different school district to your children.

Christmas child arrangement letters and agreements

Making child arrangements yourself can involve endless phone calls and diary negotiations which can be awkward, emotional and lead to potential misunderstanding. A child arrangement letter and agreement can often be the most effective way to organise your children, your ex and yourself over the Christmas 2019 holidays.

A professional, impartial letter from us can help set out exactly what you have already agreed - or want to agree. It is set out in clear terms that both parties can understand and (more often that not) agree to after just one letter. A Christmas child arrangements saves you time, stress and worry, leaving you both more time to enjoy the season with your kids.

 

Potential Christmas issues for separated parents

Whether you’re the resident parent or not, Christmas is a time when you may feel the emotional pressure of being a separated parent the most. Here’s our list of main issues past clients have experienced, and some suggestions of how to overcome these.

• I want the kids on Christmas Day

This is probably the top issue - which parent gets the children on Christmas Day itself. The conflict is often between the parent with custody stating that the children want to be ‘at home’, and the absent parent wanting to share the special day with their children at their home.

The fairest answer is, of course, that the children stay with one parent in the morning and one in the afternoon, so both see them on the day itself. However, this isn’t always practical in terms of geography, or compatible with celebrations involving extended family, including grandparents.

Some parents resolve the issue by alternating year to year, or holding a second Christmas Day for the children, complete with extended family. It’s a case of planning out what works for you and your family, and preferably agreeing it in writing well before the end of term.

• I want them to open their presents on Christmas Day

Again, this is such an emotive issue. Do children get all their presents on the day, or can the pleasure of receiving gifts be split between two days? If the joy of presents is as much in the giving as in the receiving, then having gifts presented by the absent parent in person, for example, is probably as important as the gift itself.

• I don’t have the same income as my ex

This can cause all sorts of stress and upset, and not just at Christmas. The pressure felt by the lower-earning parent can be reflected in them trying to ‘keep up’. The costs of presents, food, outings and other expenses can involve them taking on more financial burden/debt than they can afford. Furthermore, many parents raise the issue of using gifts as an incitement or to influence a child.

Here too, a level of cooperation can keep that to a minimum. A child arrangement letter can include as many details as you wish, such as a suggested spend limit on presents that both parents can afford. Even better is that the parties equally contribute if they can to the major present, to demonstrate positive co-parenting and avoid upstaging on Christmas Day.

• Their grandparents want to see them over Christmas

Christmas is a time when extended family members will often take the extra effort to come together and celebrate. Research has proved the importance of children knowing and being involved with extended family for their social and mental wellbeing and their sense of identity.

Planning such events in advance, and scheduling child arrangements around them will ensure that children won’t miss out on these enjoyable family gatherings. This is where it’s important that parents set aside their own personal feelings about ex in-laws and focus on the needs of the child.

• Christmas skiing or foreign holidays

If you are divorced or separated, planning a family foreign holiday at Christmas does involve one crucial item of paperwork.

If you intend to go abroad with your children at any time of year, you must get permission from your ex. If you take children abroad without the permission of anyone else with parental responsibility, this is classed as child abduction and is a criminal offence. You should always get a permission letter from the person with parental responsibility and carry with you through all border controls ideally, or at least have an email trail.

If you are the resident parent, you may be concerned about this. As the Resolution website explains:

“Common fears include concerns about whether your ex will come back or not, whether your child will be safe and what happens if something goes wrong. Perhaps you don’t think your ex is responsible enough to take your child away, or your child is old enough to go away without you.”

A child arrangement letter or agreement can help define exactly the arrangements for when children are away. Don't leave this to the last minute before you travel. Arrange it well in advance to avoid letters getting delayed by the Christmas break.

 

Flying solo

As the world becomes more global, many parents are based abroad for work purposes. A common issue now emerging is whether a child should be allowed to travel as an Unaccompanied Minor with airlines.

As our Director Rita Gupta explains:

“The issue of unaccompanied minors, continues to polarise view between parents. Often it is simply not practical from a costs and time perspective for one parent to fly to another country and collect a child, particularly at peak times such as Christmas when air fares are at their highest. In such cases often one parent will suggest using the unaccompanied minor airline service. If this is accepted by the other parent, then there should be a letter or agreement in place with a clear set of obligations on both parents to ensure that a child travels safely and without any distress caused by lack of clarity of arrangements or similarly one parent being difficult.”

As with all arrangements, a child-centred approach needs to be adopted at all times. Sometimes one parent needs to accept that for some parents ,this is simply too much of a worry. In this case, a compromise is necessary such as sharing the travel arrangements or the costs of airfare tickets.

 

Travel to the EU after 31 January 2020

Depending on the outcome of the General Election on Thursday 12 December 2019, Brexit may or may not happen on 31st January 2020. If it does, and depending on the deal agreed or not, it may impact on travel to the EU. You may need to renew your or your child's passport earlier than expected, for example. For the latest details, see the "Visit Europe after Brexit" webpage at https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-brexit. Whatever the outcome, you will still need a permission letter.

 

Need help with Christmas child arrangements?

Call us to discuss our Christmas child arrangement letters or agreement, a way to a more stress-free holiday and a happier New Year!

Child holiday arrangement letters

If you’re planning a family holiday this Easter, now is the time to sort out your child arrangements with your ex-partner.

However, making child arrangements for holidays with your ex-spouse or partner may not be the easiest of conversations. It is all too easy for emotions and old resentments to bubble over, especially where one parent wants to take children abroad.

 

Child arrangements for holidays abroad

If you do want to take your children abroad during the Easter holidays, you will need permission from your ex-spouse. As part of your shared parental responsibility, you must:

  • Tell your ex of your plan to take the children abroad
  • Make sure your ex formally agrees before you start booking!
  • Ensure you have the passport
  • Provide full contact details of where the child is going, staying and telephone numbers

If you take your children out of the country without their other parent’s permission, even for a holiday, this is legally a case of child abduction.

The same of course applies if you ex-spouse wants to take the children abroad. They must seek and obtain your permission, and you must agree to their request before the children travel.

 

Getting permission in writing

That’s why we alway recommend getting that permission in writing, and why we provide a child arrangement letter service. This formalises your discussions about arrangements, or sets out your proposals, in writing. Since the letter comes via us, it is seen as impartial, less emotive and easier to agree to than endless phone calls, emails or texts. Contact us for more details.

 

Child arrangement letters for ex-pat parents

If you are an ex-pat and live and/or work abroad, you still need your ex's permission for the children to come and spend some or all of the holidays with you. By putting that permission request and agreement in writing, you can save a lot of lengthy discussions at border controls if you are collecting the children in person. This is especially important if your children no longer use your surname.

 

Can I force my ex to let the children go abroad?

If your ex doesn't give their permission for you to take children overseas, you can apply for a Specific Issue Order. This is a court order that decides on any specific question that may arise concerning Parental Responsibility, in this case, taking the child/children abroad. The court will determine if the proposed trip abroad is in the child’s best interest.

A court is unlikely to rule against a week’s holiday in the sun or a visit to grandparents or relatives in a country that is a member of the Hague Convention. However, the court may decide that other countries are not considered safe, or decide if there is a risk of the children not being returned to the UK.

This type of Order can work in your favour if you feel uncomfortable with your ex-spouse taking your children out of the country but your ex is insistent. The court will always assess the application to ensure it is in the best interests of the children. If you ex takes children out of the country without your permission, or on breach of a Specific Issues Order, this is legally classed as child abduction.

 

Child arrangements for holidays at home

If your ex spouse has child access or regular contact with the children, you need to agree arrangements in advance to avoid a last minute rush. If relations have become strained, this can be difficult as the end of term looms on the horizon.

 

Child arrangement letters from LGFL

At LGFL, we can write and send a formal child arrangements letter. This clearly lays out any decisions already made or proposes a set of arrangements. A child arrangement letter significantly reduces the amount of direct contact required between you and your ex. All they need to do is reply in writing agreeing to the arrangements, and the job is done.

Many of our single parent clients find this method of agreeing child arrangements is efficient, impartial and ‘official’, resulting in less hassle and better arrangements for their children.

 

Timing is crucial

With the current uncertainty over Brexit, travel to the EU could well be disrupted, if not downright problematic, over the Easter holidays. Equally, the courts usually experience a rush of applications for Specific Issues Orders before every school holiday from divorced parents who have left arrangements to the last minute and then cannot agree.

Needless to say, we recommend making child arrangements as soon as possible. Contact us to discuss your child arrangements letter, which could be eggs-actly what you need to ensure everyone in the family has a relaxed and enjoyable Easter holiday 2019!

Children having tea with teddies

To divorce or not to divorce? LGFL Director takes a look at new evidence as to why divorce might be the best option.

For all the unhappy couples who decided in January that this was the month they would finally file for divorce, I know from professional experience there are many more who decide to stay together ‘for the sake of the children’.

However, recent evidence is mounting that children who live in a home where there are unresolved tensions between parents can be adversely affected by the resulting arguments, negativity and potential verbal and emotional abuse.

Timing is important

According to a study by University College London (UCL),

“Children who experience a family break-up in late childhood and early adolescence are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems than those living with both parents.”

What made this study so interesting, however, was the importance of the timing of the divorce, in terms of how old the children were. Professor Emla Fitzsimons, co-author of the UCL study, noted that:

“Children whose parents broke up in late childhood and early adolescence, between the ages of 7 and 14 had, on average, a 16 per cent increase in emotional problems and an 8 per cent rise in conduct issues in the short-term.

Children whose parents separated earlier, between ages 3 and 7, were no more likely to experience mental health problems either in the short-term or later on, by age 14, than those living with both parents.”

She suggested that:

“One possible reason for this is that children are more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age (7-14 years). Family break-ups may also be more disruptive to schooling and peer relationships at this stage of childhood.”

 

Younger children and separation

The inevitable conclusion is that if you have younger children and are considering separating due to irreconcilable differences with your spouse, divorce might actually be the better option than staying together because children are more adaptable when they are younger. They therefore get used to growing up with separated parents, and having two homes.

If you wish to talk through your options for divorce in complete confidence, call us for a one to one free 30 minute consultation. You can meet us at our highly discreet countryside offices in Swallowfield. Or, we can arrange to meet you in our private office at Spaces in central Reading, at a time to suit your requirements.

 

The impact of delaying divorce: a personal insight

In a remarkable article for The Telegraph, Nell Frizzel tells her story, of begging her parents to get divorced aged 9, and them finally announcing the split just three weeks before her A-levels exams. She is remarkably frank, describing how in her view it is:

“Better to have a disorienting break while you’re young, than to suffer years in the company of two people enacting a corrosive war of insults, screaming, lying, gaslighting, sulking, infidelity or violence, centimetres from where you’re trying to do your homework.”

And in support of this, an article in Psychology Today by Susan Pease Gadoua suggests that:

“Divorce does not harm kids, per se. There’s ample research out there that divorce isn’t the worst thing that parents can do to kids: Fighting terribly and subjecting them to your vitriolic hatred toward each other is the worst; staying married in such a state is actually worse for kids than if you actually got divorced.”

 

Not just the kids

The UCL study highlighted another important issue. Divorced lone mothers who became the home parent for older children were more likely to develop mental health problems than lone mothers who have divorced when the children were younger.

 

Putting the children first

It’s a phrase we hear a lot, how parents want to ‘put the children first’. At LGFL, we take a slightly different slant, in that we put the children at the heart of everything we do in a family law case, including divorce.

It’s an approach that integrates all the legal aspects with a pragmatic overview of future family life moving forward. For example, “Putting the children first” might cause a parent to fight tooth and nail to keep the family home, when actually they cannot afford it, nor require such a large house once separated from their spouse.

Putting the children at the heart of the divorce involves a practical look at the finances alongside other issues, and realising what is important for the children is proximity to friends, family, school, stability, days out and not (necessarily) the size of their bedroom. We also urge clients not to put themselves under constant financial pressure which again causes stress which can pass down to the children.

 

Get legal advice now

If you are considering divorce, expert legal advice can never be sought too early. As one half of a married couple, you’ll need to untangle many aspects of your life including day to day finances, property, investments, and pensions, and ensure that your divorce settlement is fair and fit for your future life.

Call us at LGFL for a personal, bespoke and highly discreet service that, as we’ve said before, puts your children at the heart of everything.

Children at school desks
Who should pay the school fees after divorce is one of the most emotive and contentious issues amongst our clients when they are considering divorce. LGFL Director Anne Leiper explains why.

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Just in case you missed what we’ve been sharing this month, here’s a round up of our blogs and some of the news posts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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LGFL Director Anne Leiper takes a look at breaches in child arrangement orders, and what action you can take.

 

When parents separate, many obtain a child arrangement order from the courts.

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