Arrangements for the time your Children spend with each of you over the summer holidays
It’s that time of year again when you and your children prepare the start up of the long summer holidays. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to take all of the summer holidays off from work or other commitments to spend with their children.
If you are separated parents it can also be a stressful period, particularly if you and your ex-partner don’t agree on how best to share the holidays and your arrangements don’t go according to plan.
It is helpful for separated parents to start thinking early about the when your children will be with each of you (arrangements) during the holidays, this will help to avoid disagreements and disappointment.
Talk with your ex about holidays asap
One of the best approaches to avoid conflict as the school holidays near is to start the discussion early. If you’re on speaking terms with your former partner and feel comfortable to raise the issue, then open up the discussion as soon as you can in advance of the school holidays. The clearer you are, the less chances there are of miscommunication, so be sure to let your ex know exactly what days you’d like to spend with your child or children.
It is often possible for parents to agree on a arrangements for school holidays year on year, including special family events and other important celebrations, like Christmas and Birthdays. You may choose to share these periods equally, split the time to suit each of your availability, or to take turns having your child or children for each of these special moments, for example.
Record your child arrangements in writing
If you and your ex-partner decide to make the school holiday period work for you, so that you both have the chance to spend time with your kids, it’s a good idea to put your agreement in writing. This is not essential, but it can be a good reference point of for both of you to come back to if you’re deciding on holiday arrangements again in the future or you’ve forgotten what was agreed.
One way to do this is to make a Parenting Plan; the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) provide a good overview of what this involves and provide a free template to complete.
Get consent to go abroad
If you’re planning on taking your children abroad or to another country then you will need to have the other parent’s consent (unless there is a court order in place), and written consent is always best. There is no formal process that you have to follow in order to get consent; it could be as simple as having that consent acknowledged in a letter or email.
To make the process smoother, have a copy of that written consent available to produce at the border if questioned, along with a copy of the child’s birth or adoption certificate (to prove your relationship with the child) or a copy of your divorce certificate (which could be helpful if your child has a different surname to you). Without that express consent, you could be charged with the criminal offence of child abduction – so it’s important to get permission! If there is a court order in place, you will need bespoke legal advice.
What to do if parents can’t agree
It can be difficult to come to an agreement if the split or divorce was recent and emotions are still high or if you’re not on good terms with one another. If you have tried to talk about your plans for the school holidays but couldn’t come to an agreement, or you’re do not feel comfortable initiating that conversation, then you can ask contact a local family mediator to determine if mediation might be a way forward so that you can try and work out a fair arrangement together.
Mediation is an opportunity to have more difficult conversations, focus on your child’s needs and find mutual ground together. It is sometimes possible to mediate without being in the same room as your ex-partner if there is high conflict. This is something the mediator will discuss with you.
How to find a Mediator
It is very important that you find a mediator who holds the professional title of Family Mediator (FMCA). This means the mediator is qualified to assist you to the highest possible standard in the country, and if things don’t work out, and you do end up needing to apply to court, then they can sign the C100 form that you will need to do this. Sometimes people will tell you that they are a mediator. To find an FMCA Mediator or too check your mediator is qualified you can go online to https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator/put in your postcode and your local Mediators will appear. If you are on a low income, make sure you check the box for those mediators providing Legal Aid (free mediation).
Family Mediation is often provided for free under Legal Aid, you can find out if you are eligible by calling a local Mediator. Certain benefits such as Universal credit, ESA and JSA (income based) automatically qualify for free mediation on production of evidence of those welfare benefits. If you are on a low income but not in receipt of one of the above benefits it is still possible to be eligible for Legal Aid.
What if we can’t sort it out?
In small number of cases it can be difficult to come to an arrangement that you both agree with or think is fair during mediation.
If that’s the case, then you have the option of making an application to the Family Court in order to spend time with your child or children, but this should only be considered as a last resort. An FMCA mediator will need to sign all applications to court (save for extreme circumstances) and they to say you that you have attended a MIAM and your ex-partner did/didn’t and if Mediation started that the Mediation has broken down.
Going to court can further exacerbate any tension, deteriorate any existing relationship and can cost time and energy. If you are intending to go on holiday with your child and the other parent does not agree, then you may need to consider making an application for a Specific Issue Order.
Director Children 1st Mediation