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Rhianna Cole

Child arrangements over the school holidays for separated couples

Child arrangements can be tricky at the best of times, but following separation, the pressure can be heightened, says Rhianna Cole of Goughs Solicitors.

Unfortunately, school holidays can sometimes cause issues relating to child arrangements. This could be due to both parents wishing to take the child(ren) on holiday at the same time, or, if the parents are in different cities or countries, the children may wish to see friends from school during the holidays rather than travel to the other parent.

These issues can arise at different stages in the child’s development, and it’s crucial that their feelings and wishes are taken into account when devising plans.

It is always beneficial to try, wherever possible, to plan ahead and organise those dates that the child(ren) are to spend time with each parent.

This is particularly the case where both parents are working and need to ensure they can arrange time off. The earlier this is planned, the less likely disputes will arise.

One helpful tip is to download your child’s school holiday calendar as soon as it comes available, and work through the dates that need to be covered.

Whilst there may be some last minute changes required, the more of the dates you can agree well in advance, the easier it will be to relax and enjoy the time with your child or children, when the time comes.

What is best for the children?

The best option for your child is usually what works for them, with your plans coming secondary to the child’s needs. If either parent needs to change their plans to optimise the child’s break, then flexibility is encouraged.

However, for various reasons, not everyone is able to take an extended period of time away from their work commitments to provide childcare.

Alternative options, such as holiday, sports or drama clubs, not only help support working parents, they can also provide children with the stimulation they need, and give them an opportunity to mix with other children of a similar age. Children will benefit from a mix of activities over the longer holiday breaks.

Remember to discuss and agree who will be funding these activities, an early agreement will help minimise disputes and stress nearer the time.

Using grandparents and extended family

Many of us already use our extended family or friends to assist with short term childcare, and this can be invaluable. The use of family and friends to look after your children for a longer period of time can also be very helpful, but it is important to discuss and agree on any ground rules, or issues such as who will be funding activities.

This is particularly important if the plan is for the family or friends to take the children away on a vacation. You will need to consider how much the holiday will cost and who will be paying. Not all families have similar expectations as to how much you need to spend for a good holiday!

Allowing the children access to the parent from ‘the other side’ needs to be discussed and managed. Again, putting the needs of the child(ren) first is vital. You don’t need to pre-plan everything, simply try to think where contention or disputes might arise.

Taking the children abroad for a vacation

Where one party intends to take the child or children abroad, the agreement of both parents needs to be sought. The exception to this, is where one party has a Child Arrangements Order in place stating that the child lives with them. This allows that parent to remove the child or children from the jurisdiction for a period of one month, without requiring the permission of the other party. The parent who does not have such an Order will still require the other party’s consent.

Whilst many would like to go abroad on holiday, affordability may be an issue for some. Can you agree on a budget or an agreement whereby you alternate years for holidays abroad with one parent then the other? Issues regarding who is to retain the children’s passport may arise. Reaching an agreement regarding the handover and return of those and any other supporting documentation should be considered early on.

Coping without your children

It is worth being mindful of the parent who may not be seeing the child(ren) for a few weeks over the longer holiday period. If any form of indirect contact, such as telephone calls or video calls can be accommodated, which can benefit the child(ren), then it is worth thinking about that too.

Clearly, you don’t want that to overly impact the holiday, but if such contact can be managed, it is worth thinking about. In many cases, a child/children express their wish to contact the absent parent and so pre-empting those conversations and having something in place will be worthwhile.

What to do if you are struggling to reach an agreement?

  • Plan in advance – print out the school term time calendar
  • Put the children first
  • Where a dispute/clash arises perhaps consider seeking assistance from mutual friend/family member to assist or meet in neutral place to discuss matters
  • Consider meditation where ongoing issues or areas of dispute arise in connection with the children or holiday arrangements
  • Consider putting in place a Parenting Plan setting out your agreements and wishes in respect of the child/children. It will assist you in anticipating matters concerning the children that will need to be considered. It will invariably assist you both to look ahead for the benefit of the child/children but also yourselves in terms of how you approach certain matters.

Rhianna Cole is a senior associate and family law specialist at Goughs Solicitors

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