How should separated parents deal with child contact disputes around holidays?
As we gear up to the summer period, solicitors who practise family law are often approached by separated parents regarding disputes about holiday contact. These disputes can be difficult for both parents and children.
Such difficulties are not confined to the summer period, of course. Often, where there is a change to the usual care arrangements – perhaps prompted by a break in the school calendar – this can create tensions, particularly in the early days of a separation.
Difficulties can also arise where one parent wishes to take a child abroad and there are concerns surrounding that e.g. the choice of destination or duration of the holiday. There can also be issues of trust which pose a significant concern to one parent in the context of a holiday abroad – perhaps where there is a worry that the other parent will not return home and will retain the child abroad.
Varying approaches to holiday contact / tackling problems
Forward planning and constructive communication between parents is usually what will help most when it comes to avoiding problems in connection with holidays. There is no one particular approach which will work in every case and no one defined pattern of holiday contact which will suit all families. Arrangements will differ from family to family.
With a view to avoiding disputes about holiday contact, it can be helpful to recognise the nature of relations between parents and the respective commitments and lifestyle of those involved (including children) and to try and come up with an arrangement or approach which best suits, based on these considerations.
In some cases, families will get by with a loose arrangement for holidays which changes from year-to-year. For other families, such arrangements will not work – usually where there are issues of trust or a high level of conflict between parents. Where one parent resides abroad, this will also necessitate a certain amount of forward planning. In such situations, a more formalised pattern or ‘schedule’ can help avoid to problems because it allows parents and children to plan ahead.
Mediation can also be a very helpful tool for parents where disputes arise in relation to holiday contact. A number of our family law solicitors are accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as family mediators and would be happy to assist.
When disputes in relation to holiday contact can’t be sorted out by agreement
Where a dispute arises which is not ultimately capable of being resolved by agreement, a parent may seek a court order to regulate matters. This might be a court order in connection with holidays generally or in respect of a specific trip. In the case of the latter, it is important to note that the consent of all individuals with parental rights and responsibilities is required to remove a child from the UK. Therefore, in the context where one parent wishes to take a child abroad for a holiday and the other parent objects, a court order would be required.
Scottish courts will apply the principles set down in section 11(7) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 when making a decision about children, including a decision regarding holiday contact. These are:
- The court must regard the welfare of the children as its paramount consideration.
- No order will be made by the court unless it considers that it would be better for the children that the order is made, than none at all (the “no order” principle).
- The court must also take account of the views of the children, where appropriate.
How we can help
Our team of family law specialists have many years of experience of dealing with contact disputes, including those which relate to holidays. In the first instance, we will usually always attempt to progress a case with a view to avoiding litigation. However, if that does not prove possible or is not appropriate, our team is also very experienced in litigating cases relating to children both in the sheriff court and Court of Session.
Please be in touch on 0141 221 8888 if you require assistance and we would be happy to talk through your options.
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