Christmas Past and Present - how to try and ensure that Christmas this year is a joyful time for the Children and not saddened by memories of past disputes
Christmas is fast approaching and soon we will be seeing Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on our screens once again, whether as a musical, an animated version or including puppet pigs and frogs. Although there are many versions of this classic story, there is one scene in the book not often included in the screen adaptations: when Bob Cratchit returns from church on Christmas morning with Tiny Tim, he is dismayed to be told that his eldest daughter, Martha, has been kept back at work. It turns out, however, that Martha is only teasing her father and when she sees how upset he is, she emerges from her hiding place and the united family enjoy their Christmas together albeit that there is barely enough on their meagre roast goose to go round.
This scene reminds us how important family is at Christmas but, sadly, there are many cases where families are separated and arrangements have to be made for the children.
The law covering arrangements for children is set out in the Children Act 1989. The Act says nothing about what should happen at Christmas but Section 1 makes it clear that the welfare of the children is the first consideration. If at all possible, it is best for the parents to try and agree arrangements between themselves, well before the Christmas period. However, if the parents cannot agree, then an application can be made to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order which can specify exactly when a child will spend time with each parent (this used to be called a Contact Order) or if there is a particular dispute (for example, as to whether a child should attend a pantomime or whether a parent can attend a school play) then an application can be made for a Specific Issue Order to resolve the point. At Hatten Wyatt, all the Family Solicitors are either members of Resolution or of the Law Society Family Panel and are committed to helping parties resolve such matters amicably, always considering the welfare of the children first.
It is, of course always important to think of practical issues such as what transport arrangements will be made and if the parents have been used to handing over the child in a public place, whether anywhere will be open over the Christmas period. The Children Act also says that the wishes and feelings of children so far as they can be ascertained, should be taken into account. It is best to avoid arranging handover during an activity that a child may particularly enjoy. This year, “Doctor Who” is not scheduled as part of Christmas Day’s television but in the past many children have been upset at having to miss part of the programme because they have had to leave to go and stay with their other parent.
Family solicitors often see the distress and upset that can be caused by parents’ inability to agree Christmas arrangements and a Judge has commented that most children would rather enjoy two Christmases even if one of these is on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day rather than have Christmas Day itself consumed by angry arguments. If you are encountering difficulty in sorting out arrangements for Christmas, then please arrange to see one of our specialist family solicitors.
Finally, I should like to leave you with one interesting fact: when Charles Dickens was a young boy growing up in London, he lived opposite a row of warehouses which he would have seen every day. The owners of one of these were a Mr Goodge and a Mr Marney!
All at Hatten Wyatt wish you a Very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.