We are now in the full swing of the Christmas period which can be a difficult time for separated parents and for the children of those families. It is becoming more and more common to have a 'blended family' arrangement which is formed when a couple move in together and bring children from a previous relationship into the home. Divorce rates are on the rise for the first time in a decade and this will no doubt contribute to an increase in different family arrangements.
With separated parents it can sometimes be difficult to make arrangements for children during the festive period. Most parents want to make the most of the break with the children and participate in festivities such as seeing the Christmas Lights and visiting Santa Clause. Extended family of both parent's also want to spend time with the children. It can be difficult to fit in everything that everyone wants to do when the Christmas break is relatively short. Older children may have different ideas about who they want to spend time with, dropping Mum and Dad in favour of spending time with their friends!
Trying to balance everything can be difficult and can cause conflict between parents. Arrangements are further complicated by everyday occurrences such as parent's working patterns and other commitments.
It is hoped that parents are able to agree arrangements for Christmas between themselves so that the children can have an enjoyable break spending time with both parents and their families.
It is also hoped that parents can agree on wider arrangements for the children including where the children should live and who they spend time with. If parents cannot agree then it is recommended that parent's attend mediation where an independent mediator can attempt to facilitate an agreement. (There are some circumstances where mediation is considered inappropriate).
If this proves unsuccessful the last resort is to seek involvement by the Court. The Court can make a decision clarifying the living arrangements for a child and who they should spend time with, this is called a Child Arrangement Order (CAO). It is common for a CAO to make provisions for the Christmas break as this can be a special time for families. Each family is different so it is hoped that arrangements can be tailored around this. Some families find it helpful to have a flexible arrangement for Christmas and others find it beneficial to have a clear structure so that they know what is going to happen.
If a Child Arrangements Order is in place and there are specific provisions for Christmas then each parent should comply with this. It is an Order from the Court and there can be serious consequences for breaching an Order.
I am supposed to have my child on Christmas Day but my ex-partner is refusing – what can I do?
There can be minor and major breaches of a Court Order. A breach of a Court Order is very serious and there can be consequences for doing so. We would recommend keeping a note of any incidents as it is important to keep a clear record of what happened. It can be difficult to remember the exact details if you need to provide information about it at some point in the future.
In exceptional circumstances there can be a 'reasonable excuse' for non-compliance with a CAO.
In the first instance we would always suggest talking to the other parent to see whether an agreement can be reached that is suitable for the parents and most importantly for the child.
Can I call the police?
Usually, the police will not get involved with breaches of CAO's this is because an Order has been made by the Family Court and not by a criminal Court. It is also likely that both parents are going to have parental responsibility for the child and there is a limit as to what the police may be able to do.
If you are concerned about the child coming to harm or potentially being abducted you should seek legal advice immediately.
I have tried to talk to my ex- partner but they are still refusing to comply– what can I do?
It is possible to make an application to the Court to enforce a CAO. The Court will need to consider what has or has not happened regarding the alleged breach. They will then need to decide whether it is necessary to have a hearing. The Court will consider all of the circumstances and any reasons for non-compliance. They will also decide whether there needs to be involvement from CAFCASS who are the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Applying to enforce a CAO can be complicated and we would always recommend that you seek legal advice.
What enforcement powers does the Court have?
If a Court decides that there is no 'reasonable excuse' for non-compliance of the CAO then there are a number of things that it can do. Before doing so, the Court will examine all of the circumstances and only make an Order which it feels is appropriate.
It can Order the parties to:
- Attend a Separated Parents Information Programme
- Order a committal to prison
- Impose a fine
- Order a party to pay financial compensation for financial loss
- Order a party to undertake unpaid work of up to 200 hours
- Vary the Order
As you will see, non-compliance with a CAO can be very serious.
The law recognises that circumstances around a CAO may change and it may no longer continue to work in practice. If you find yourself in this predicament it is possible to make an application to vary the terms of the Order.
Arrangements regarding children can be difficult to deal with due heightened emotions but here at Clapham and Collinge Solicitors our family law experts are Resolution lawyers and promote a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. Our aim is to work out a solution that is right for you in your circumstances.
To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Family Law Solicitors will be delighted to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.