Jenni Gear, a Family Law solicitor based in Harper Macleod's Lerwick office, looks at the process for separated parents agreeing child contact arrangements over the festive period.
With Christmas now being a mere six weeks away, it is easy to think that there is still ample time to sort out the Santie lists, order the foods and buy the Christmas tree.
However, if you are a separated parent, one matter which is important to discuss and finalise as soon as you can, are the arrangements for your children with your ex-partner over the festive period.
Sharing time with the children over Christmas can be a simple process for some parents and the arrangements may be easy to work out if communication is good between you. Sadly this is not always the case and it can be difficult to compromise when both parents want to spend time with their child on Christmas day.
What does the law say?
There is no strict rule as to what should and should not happen on Christmas, birthdays or any other special occasions. It is important to remember that whatever arrangement is made, it should be in your children's best interests.
When discussing with your ex-partner, it is recommend to put time aside and communicate as openly and honestly as possible regarding your wishes. As stated, it is really never too early to have such a discussion and indeed the earlier the discussion, the better, given this will reduce the stress and pressure of having to come to an arrangement quickly. It is also important to be flexible and compromise, for example, by alternating Christmas days between parents on a yearly basis.
Above all it is important to remember to consider what is in the best interests of the children and if appropriate, consider what their wishes are as well. If you need assistance in discussing matters with your ex-partner, you can engage with the assistance of a mediation service who can help you both reach an agreement.
If you were still unable to agree an arrangement, then it is possible to go to court and ask a sheriff to decide what the arrangements should be. This, however, is likely to be a costly and time consuming process which can cause additional stress. The paramount consideration for the sheriff is what is in the children's best interests. Going to court can be a gamble, as you are putting the decision making into the hands of a third party who may not necessarily agree with what you want.
If you think you may require advice in relation to this, and are unable to agree matters with your ex-partner directly, it is advisable to take the advice of a solicitor as soon as possible. If a court action is required, it is better that this is raised sooner rather than later as courts can become busy on the run up to Christmas.
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This article originally appeared in the Shetland Times