Blog by Austin Chessell, the convener of ASM Plus’s Family Mediation Team. Austin offers practical tips on how to resolve Christmas holiday contact through mediation.

Christmas is fast approaching. Nurseries and schools will be closing shortly for several weeks making Christmas holiday contact one of the main issues being mediated at the moment at ASM PLUS.

Below are some of the factors and common topics that are raised and explored with our clients to reach decisions for Christmas contact between our clients and their children.

1. Telling the children. If this is the first year that the parents are separated, how will the separation be explained to the children before contact issues are resolved?

2. How old are the children? Infants and toddlers compared to teenagers are going to need different lengths and frequencies of contact that need to be considered. When the children get older should there be trigger points for reviewing the contact schedule over Christmas? e.g. after a year.

3. How would the children like contact to be over Christmas? The parents need to decide the final contact arrangements but it is important when the children are old enough to find out their views. The children can also be part of the mediation process if both parents consent to this. Everything said to the mediator will remain confidential apart from what the children want to be passed back to the parents. The welfare and wishes of the children are of central concern to the court. We try and get both parents to keep this at the forefront of their minds while mediating.

4. Other relatives. What are the grandparents’ and about relatives’ views for contact who may want to see their grandchildren over the Christmas period?

5. Travelling abroad. If one parent is to travel abroad, ensure that the other parent will have a telephone number or contact details so that they can have telephone or even Skype contact on Christmas day.

6. Alternate Christmas contact. A lot of families now like to spend Christmas abroad. The clients therefore are often happy to alternate who has contact with the children each year.

7. Keeping the other parent informed. The Christmas period can have a lot of festive events, religious ceremonies and activities. We try and get the parents to agree how far in advance they should communicate with each other so that if there is a clash of events a compromise can be reached.

8. Breaking the Christmas period into slots of days. Sometimes one parent has the children for contact on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day while the other parent has contact on Christmas Day and other days. Or one parent has contact over Christmas and the other parent then has contact over New Year. This then rotates yearly.

9. Having Christmas together. In some mediation agreements (memorandum of understanding) we have prepared, the resident parent has wanted it documented that the non-resident parent can spend Christmas Day at the resident parent’s house so that both parents have contact with their children on Christmas Day when the presents are opened.

10. Morning and evening contact on Christmas Day. One parent has contact with the children in the morning of Christmas Day and the other parent has contact in the afternoon.

11. Shared Christmas contact. If there is a shared residence order in place and contact cannot be divided 50/50 over the festive period, it is explored whether there are other points in the year where more contact can be granted so that there is a balance of contact between both of them.

12. Good communication between parents. Is this best done by email, phone or face to face where there is an acceptance by both parents that over this busy period flexibility is needed? Good communication can also work if the parents agree to arrange a neutral point for contact handovers, agree an agenda of items in advance, looking to the future rather than to the past, and agreeing to a time limit for discussions so that everything talked about is focused.

13. Keeping the other parent informed. If there is important information that the other parent needs to know – for example new dietary needs or their general routine – write this down and keep the other parent informed so that the child’s transition is not disrupted between parents.

14. Business partnership. If communication is strained and difficult can you liaise with your former partner as you would with a work colleague? And if things do become heated find a way to calm down before continuing discussions?

15. Passport and travel. Discussions centre on giving consent for passport applications, and, if the children are travelling abroad, on consent being given for how long they agree to them being outside of the jurisdiction. If there are child abduction or relocation concerns, we always recommend both parties seek legal advice from their respective solicitors.

If you would like to resolve Christmas contact matters in advance of the holiday period through Family Mediation, Austin Chessell from ASM PLUS would be happy to work with both of you to see if decisions can be reached.

Telephone:  07393 654824