HM Insights

All I want for Christmas … a seasonal story for separated parents

This time of year can be really hard for children whose parents have separated. It is not their fault and they are caught in the middle. Parents owe it to their children to try and sort something out and for most children the best present would be seeing both their parents at some time at Christmas. 

When parents separate, they have to decide and agree on what is in the best interests of their children. In some cases this can be straightforward, but often there are differences between the parents which are more difficult to reconcile. 

Whatever the circumstances, the most important consideration is the best interests of the child. It is also important that each parent continues to have a meaningful relationship with their children as long as this is also in their best interests. 

It is important to select a process that has the best chance of reducing the impact of separation on the child, and the mediation and collaboration processes are particularly helpful here. 

Mediators are trained to help resolve disputes without having to go to court. They don't take sides, and will identify the issues that you just can agree on then try to find a resolution that everyone can accept. 

While it's not always easy to look beyond the bad feeling, perhaps considering a not untypical Christmas tale of the 21st Century can help people to find common ground, especially at such a family-oriented time of year. 

A Christmas case study

Jamie is six. He knows his parents don't live together any more and although he is sad about that he wasn't surprised when Dad left – his parents had been shouting at each other so much and he'd heard some of they'd been saying. Sometimes they were arguing about him. He really likes Christmas, especially the presents. This year he wants a robot, but he's not sure if his Mum and Dad will get him presents this year. Will he even see his Dad? 

Mediator's office.

Despite the agreement, there is still a real tension. Jamie's Mum is still so upset at his Dad. He was initially apologetic but is now just angry. The mediator lets the silence settle for a moment and then says: "I know this has been very difficult for you but I think we all know that Jamie will be very happy at what you have decided."

Christmas Eve in Jamie's bedroom.

Mum comes into Jamie's bedroom and sits at the side of the bed. She smiles at him and says: "Your dad and I have agreed that he will come over and see you tomorrow morning. I am sure he has a present for you."

Before Christmas the courts are full of people who cannot agree what is best for their children over the holiday period. They are asking someone else, who does not know their children, to make a decision. Would it not be better for the parents to make important decisions themselves? If that is so, then mediation and collaboration offer genuine opportunities of resolving issues concerning children in a way that allows both parents to keep on parenting. The value of this is never more apparent than at this time of year.

Alan Susskind is a Partner in Harper Macleod's Family Law team and an accredited Family Law Mediator with more than 20 years experience in all types of actions.

Harper Macleod's team of family solicitors understands that divorce and separation can have a huge impact on your life, and can guide you through the best course of action with sensitivity and objectivity. Getting the best advice is crucial to resolving your situation, and there are many options available to you, from litigation and arbitration to negotiation, mediation and collaboration. We have also designed a number of packaged fees which, in certain circumstances, will let you know from the outset what the costs will be.

To talk to Alan or one of our team call 0141 227 9545