As we enter into December, thoughts turn to the festive period and the anticipated issues that may arise for separated families and child arrangements. Unfortunately, this year, any issues will inevitably be exacerbated given the government guidelines restricting no more than three households gathering over prescribed period: 22 – 27 December 2020.
For many separated families, Christmas Day can be a contentious issue. Children wish to wake up in their own beds, and parents wish to wake up with their children. However, when children have two beds and two separate parents to wake up to, this can lead to disagreement. The court is usually asked to adjudicate on Christmas arrangements in the event of any dispute. In some cases, one parent might unilaterally decide to take the children abroad for Christmas, or indicate they will not be honouring the arrangements agreed with the other parent. A return to court in these circumstances in almost inevitable.
This year, there are concerns over the government’s policy of three households mixing over the prescribed period and the distinction this will draw between separated and non-separated families. For a separated family, each respective parent will be one household. This means that children of separated families can only mix with one other household over the prescribed period and therefore many grandparents, aunties, uncles, and friends etc. are likely to miss out on spending time with their families. Separated families are already vulnerable to heighted emotions and potential conflict. Family professionals are concerned that the government’s policy is likely to create even more problems for separated families this year over the course of the festive period and beyond.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, obtaining an urgent court listing in the same week as submitting an application was no small feat. Subsequently, the pressures of Covid-19 on top of an already overloaded court system has had a substantial impact on the court’s ability to hear urgent cases. Prior to March 2020, the family courts were already facing an unprecedented amount of court applications. Now, 9 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the backlog of financial remedy cases in some regions has meant that cases are being listed in September 2021.
With the strenuous demands on the court system, it may be unlikely that urgent, holiday related child arrangements disputes will be heard by the court before the fast approaching 25 December 2020. In light of this, more reliance will be placed on solicitors to attempt to resolve any disputes between their clients without applying to court. It is hoped that in the New Year, following the publication of the Private Law Review, there will be a move to more solicitor based negotiations resulting in resolutions in family cases and movement away from the knee-jerk reaction of applying to court.
This article was written by Hannah Marshall and Annie Leach. If you need help understanding the legality of childcare arrangements this year, please contact our family team.