Child custody cases can be a nasty and grueling time for any separated parents whether proceeding inside or outside of the courts. Agreeing on custody of children at Christmas without a plan can cause unnecessary headaches for everyone involved.
The best way to deal with all holiday matters such as birthdays and Christmas is to set them out at the beginning of the separation.
Whether the current situation is amicable or otherwise, one way of doing this would be to go through court and allow a Judge to decide. Courts are usually the preferred method as the shared custody of children can be easily defined in a fair way, this should also include and address the situation at Christmas.
However, many may find the court process daunting and difficult. There is no right or wrong way to set about dealing with child custody, so whether you decide to represent yourself or to instruct a family solicitor, be sure to take into consideration the options that are best suited to your current circumstances.
To find out about the services that a LawBid family solicitor can provide, head to our child matters services area.
Custody of Children: The Court Process
The court process is an unknown to most people and can subsequently seem quite intimidating. Below is an overview of the process that will take place if the custody of a child continues to court:
- Firstly, a person will make an application to the family court to bring the case, this includes completing a C100 form and will then pay the court fees. A person may be exempt from these fees and a person's income will be considered along with savings and any benefits received when deciding if you will be exempt from paying.
- The next stage is when CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will become involved. CAFCASS is the process in which it will be assessed if a child is in any sort of risk or likely to be in risk and is mainly concerned with safeguarding the children. They will contact both parents and have a meeting with them and if necessary they will also speak with the children themselves.
- The next stage is the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) or more commonly known as just the first hearing. This is a courtroom that you will attend with your lawyer, or not if you are representing yourself, and try to work through what each side would ideally want. Sometimes a resolution will be made here either by the two parties or by the Judge and this is known as the consent order. The Judge may also order the two parties to attend mediation.
- The last stage is the Final Hearing, this will be where both sides will have prepared a written statement and they will both be asked to give spoken evidence relevant to the case. The opposite party will ask questions to the party that is giving that spoken evidence, this will be by either the lawyer or the other party if representing themselves. The Judge will then decide and this will be communicated in writing to all parties.
Children, if old enough, will usually have an opinion on how they would like to spend the festive period, so a good way to deal with this situation is to sit everyone down together and have a discussion. Always try to put yours and your partner's differences to one side and try to do what is best for the child.
Always check what arrangements are already in place and see if they will interfere with the festive period. With children that are not of school age the plans can be a bit more relaxed however it would be easier if the plans could be extended right through the child's school years.
Some factors may inhibit the decision-making process; these could be any traditions that families may have or may create in future years with new partners or any travel that may be required and the cost of this or other things.
Avoiding Headaches over Custody at Christmas
Here are some examples of how the festive period may be approached:
- The whole school break could be divided equally.
- Alternating years, so one parent may have all the odd years and the other has all the even years.
- Maybe both sides could come together and spend Christmas day as a collective so no splitting up the time of year is required.
- Maybe one parent could have Christmas Day and the other will have another day but call it a second Christmas day.
- Splitting up Christmas week and New Year week. One parent has Christmas week and the other has New Year week.
- Or just Christmas could be split up so One parent will have Christmas Eve and the other will have Christmas Day.