With preparations for the festive season now in full swing, we look at the top five most common causes of disputes among divorced or separated parents during November and December.
Based on firm-wide data, family law firm Simpson Millar has released its research in the hopes it will encourage parents to communicate and make plans for the children ahead of the holidays, to avoid last-minute disputes.
TOP FIVE CAUSES OF DISPUTES BETWEEN PARENTS AT CHRISTMAS
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1. Which parent the children spend Christmas Day with
2. Children meeting a new partner
3. Different new haircuts or piercings made without consultation with the other parent
4. The amount of time the children are allowed to spend on the internet and social media
5. Diet: what the children are being allowed to eat over the holidays
Emma Pearmaine, head of Family Law at Simpson Millar, said: “The most distressing calls we get are from parents on the morning of Christmas Eve when arrangements to share the children over the holidays have fallen through. Although we always do our best to help, our options are extremely limited at that late stage.
“What might seem like a small thing to one parent could matter an awful lot to the other.
“Cutting a daughter’s hair in a fashionable new way without consultation, or finding out at the last minute that the children will be introduced to a new partner on Christmas Day – these are some of the things that can result in good intentions turning sour almost instantly.
“At least 30% of divorced parents worry about the influence of a new partner, according to our own Christmas Survey. When it all becomes too much to bear, one parent might just decide to keep the children and cancel all hand-over arrangements at the last minute.”
Emma urges divorced and separated parents to plan ahead for Christmas and to try to agree on both the formal and the more personal decisions together.
Sadly, a lack of communication is a widespread problem according to the Simpson Millar Family Christmas Survey which found that 42% of newly separated parents cannot remain on speaking terms to make arrangements for Christmas.
Emma said: “Communication and planning are absolutely key when it comes to ensuring the happiness and wellbeing of children whose parents are divorced – not least during the most emotional and magical holiday of them all.
“Whether that is in person, over the phone or by email; the key is to reach agreements that both parties are comfortable. Otherwise, chances are that actions will speak louder than words when emotions begin to run high.”
Emma points out that should the courts need to become involved, time is of the essence: “Each year, our family law team helps parents put fair and practical plans in place which both adults and children benefit from.
“If communication breaks down and we need to reach an agreement through the courts, then we will do so, but only as a last resort. The courts will only get involved when all other avenues, including mediation, have been exhausted.”
Two in three parents say that that what their children want weighs highly in their decision making and as many as one in four divorced and separated parents spend Christmas, according to Simpson Millar’s survey.
“Setting out mutual expectations weeks before Christmas means that there is time to resolve any issues that might emerge, whether those are surrounding what the children should and shouldn’t be allowed to do or eat during the holiday, who they might meet, and which presents they are going to receive from mum and dad.
“Then, all that is left to remember is to let Santa know when and where to leave his presents.”
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