Separated parents urged to settle disputes over Christmas contact

Separated parents are advised to finalise arrangements for spending time with their children over the festive period as constructively and quickly as…

Separated parents are advised to try to finalise arrangements for spending time with their children over the festive period as constructively, and as quickly, as possible. Many courts will soon become fully booked and unable to accommodate court hearings before the Christmas period.

ONS figures [2013] show that nearly 100,000 children under 16 are involved in divorces each year (64% of whom are under 11 years old). In the months leading up to Christmas, the family courts get very busy trying to deal with disputes about how the children should divide their time over Christmas.

Now that we are in the latter months of the year, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that court time will actually be available for parents bringing a fresh dispute to litigation. Due to the lack of available court time, and as the courts increasingly see joint parenting decisions as the best way for parents to bring up their children, parents need to take a constructive approach to resolve their issues in a sensible way that suits the children, rather than the adults.

Unless a case is very urgent, or involves a risk of harm to children, in every child dispute, parents are now obliged to explore the option of family mediation before issuing court proceedings. Family law mediators are trained to help separated couples resolve disputes, including financial settlements and arrangements for any children. A mediator is impartial, and meets the parties together to assist them in identifying those issues that are not yet agreed upon and help them to try and reach agreement.

Many parties enter into mediation and pursue it to the conclusion of a satisfactory settlement in respect of child arrangements. It is usually advisable for parties going through mediation to retain their own solicitors to provide independent advice following sessions.

Mediation is not a suitable forum for all cases and clients need to consider carefully how they wish to proceed. To assess whether mediation might be appropriate, parties should seek expert family law advice.

In any event, with only a few weeks before Christmas, parents are advised to consider practical compromises this year, to ensure that their children do not get caught in the cross fire with their memories overshadowed by parental disputes.

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