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With less than two months to go before Christmas, many separated parents start to think about the arrangements for contact with their children. Christmas is a very special time for many and the thought of not having their children during this period is unbearable. But how can contact happen when the parents have separated and each wants to spend time with their children?

It may be possible, with the assistance of a family lawyer, to negotiate arrangements which enable each parent to spend time with the children on Christmas Day or during the Christmas holiday. If it is not possible and one of the parents is considering court action, there usually has to be a referral to mediation first. A mediator will assess whether mediation is possible. If it is, the mediator will arrange one or more meetings when both parents and the mediator will discuss matters together in the hope that an agreement can be reached. If an agreement is not reached or mediation is not possible, the next step is to make an application to the court.

You may have clients who mention to you that they want to apply for child custody or access. These are terms which have remained in common use notwithstanding changes to the terminology brought about by the Children Act 1991 when such orders became known as residence and contact orders. There was a further change in April 2014 and these orders now fall under the umbrella of a child arrangements order.

An application to the court for a child arrangements order will incur a £215 court fee and will need to be accompanied by a letter asking the court to list the application for an urgent hearing before the Christmas period. At the first hearing, a Judge will listen to both parents and will make an order stating when the children will spend time with each parent under the child arrangements order. If there are any further issues to be dealt with in respect of the arrangements for the children, the court is likely to list a further hearing to consider those issues, possibly with the assistance of a report from a family reporter from Cafcass. The reporter is appointed by the court as an independent expert who can report on the wishes and feelings of the children and recommend to the court the orders that should be made.

It will be clear that this all takes time. The courts are already struggling to fix hearings due to the large number of applications made by unrepresented parties which take additional time to process. It is not uncommon for the courts to have to deal with significant numbers of applications relating to contact over the Christmas period.

If your client wants to be sure that they are going to be able to spend time with their children this Christmas, then time is of the essence.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.