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Specific issues: Divorce and Holidays

 It is always difficult making the decision to separate, however even more so with the festive period approaching. We frequently receive questions as to how to deal with the decision to divorce, so thought it would be helpful to set out below some of the commonly asked questions we get in the lead up to Christmas.

My husband and I have been thinking of getting a divorce for some time. It is almost Christmas and becoming unbearable living in the same house. I am worried it will ruin the children’s Christmas if we tell them and think we should wait until after. What do you advise?

There will never be a right time to tell the children you are getting a divorce, however if it is becoming unbearable, you need to think about the impact this is having on the children. It is much better for children to be in a happy environment even if it means their parents are separating than it is for them to be in a hostile environment with both parents together.

You and your husband should sit down together and think about how to tell your children. There are great resources on the internet which can help you with this. It is important to remember to let them ask questions and listen to them.

If you do decide to separate before Christmas, think about how you will divide the festive period.

How do we divide Christmas going forward?

There are no set rules and you can agree what you think works for both of you and your children.

Where possible, it is a good idea to try to think of Christmas in two parts; the period leading up to Christmas, and the period post-Christmas. Some families alternate, so the children will spend the first part of Christmas from the date they finish school up until say Boxing Day with one parent. They will then spend the remaining period up until just after New Year with the other parent. This will then be alternated yearly.

If logistics allow, some families feel it works well for children to have the opportunity to divide Christmas Day between two households. So, for example, children can spend Christmas Day up until 3pm or so with one parent, and then spend the rest of Christmas Day with the other parent. Of course, this may not always be practicable if distance is an issue. Many people also feel that it is nicer for the children to spend Christmas Day in one location, without being uprooted from one household (and set of new toys!) to another, partway through their day. In our experience, if the parents can’t decide, Judges usually prefer the latter option and alternate Christmas Day itself between the parents.

The key is being flexible and, where possible, maintaining as amicable a relationship as possible and ensuring you focus on the children.  However, it is important to give children to have the opportunity to spend time with both sides of their family over the Christmas period.

It is my first Christmas being divorced. This year, my children are spending Christmas Day with me, but next year they will be with their father. How do I cope?

Spending Christmas, or even any time, apart from your children is always difficult. Here are some tips:

  1. Where possible, schedule a time on Christmas Day to call your children or have video contact with them via Skype or Face Time.
  2. Don’t spend Christmas alone! If possible, spend Christmas with close friends or family to keep yourself occupied. Some parents in this position choose to do volunteer work on Christmas Day to have a completely different focus.
  3. Focus on the time you do get to spend with your children, and make the most of it.
  4. Don’t involve the children. Whilst it is okay to let your children know you will miss them, don’t put them in the position of feeling guilty that they won’t be spending Christmas with you and make it clear that you will be fine without them and they will have fun with the other parent.
  5. Have a second Christmas. Make plans for you and the children to celebrate Christmas together on another day. Children will love the idea of having two Christmases.

We always went away to visit family at Christmas. Can I still do this now we are divorced? 

In answering this question, it is important to note that if you were married at the time you had children, you will both have parental responsibility. If you were not but subsequently got married, you will also both have parental responsibility. It is important to think about the following:

Do you intend to take the children to visit family within England and Wales, or do you intend to go abroad?

If you intend to travel within England and Wales, you do not need to seek the permission of the other parent to do so unless you are prohibited by a court order. You should ensure that taking the children away does not interfere with the other parent’s period of contact.

Even though you do not need permission to take children within England and Wales, we would recommend that you seek the other parent’s approval in any event. Where children are involved, it is important to try to maintain an amicable relationship, especially given that you will both be involved in their lives for years to come.

If you intend to travel abroad with your children, then you must also consider the following:

Is there a Child Arrangements Order in force that says your children live with you?

If there is, you are permitted to take them abroad for 28 days without seeking the other parent’s permission unless the order says you cannot. Again, for the reasons above, we would recommend you seek the other parent’s approval in any event.

Where there is no Child Arrangements Order in place and you intend to travel abroad, you will need to seek the other parent’s approval since they will still have parental responsibility even though you have now divorced. You will also need to seek the approval of anyone else with parental responsibility. In seeking their approval, make sure you do so well in advance and provide them with the following information:

  1. The dates you intend to take the children away;
  2. Where you will be staying; and
  3. Contact details.

If they are unwilling to provide their consent, you will need to think about making an application for Specific Issue Order to obtain a court order giving you permission to take the children abroad. If you require further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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