Added Christmas stress for separated families – but help is at hand

When the furniture adverts on TV start promising delivery before Christmas, you know it’s time to focus on other aspects of a festive season in which the unwanted gifts could include COVID-19. For separated parents, there’s a particular need to plan well ahead, with built-in flexibility, to ensure an enjoyable Christmas for the children whilst keeping the family at the least possible risk of infection.

Early September onwards brought increasing uncertainty about what rules would apply through to New Year, in addition to the basic ‘hands, face, space’ message. With quarantine required on return from a frequently changing list of countries and local lockdowns springing up around the UK, it’s vital to think things through before making any totally fixed arrangements for Christmastime.

Lockdown caveats

There’s even the possibility of another national lockdown if a second wave of the virus takes hold, despite new efforts to control it. Local lockdown was threatened in Bedford when infection rates rose there in July. Luton also brought in local measures as case numbers climbed in some postcode areas. There have been relaxations for separated families during lockdowns, but there are caveats.

During national lockdown, the government said that under-18 children of separated parents could move between the parents’ homes. The caveats urged careful thought about any risks with regard to: the children’s health and related susceptibilities; any vulnerable people living at either property; and whether there existed a risk of infection, such as from someone with possible COVID symptoms.

The children come first

So, Christmas 2020 will be different from usual, but one unchanged feature will be the natural desire of separated parents not to let their differences or changed circumstances mar their children’s enjoyment of the festivities. Amicable and flexible agreement about where children will spend the holidays will help them to feel more secure and relaxed, which should mean more festive fun for all.

When planning to travel abroad with your children, it is also essential to get your ex-partner’s consent if you share parental responsibility. However, where a court has ruled that a child should live with you, such consent is mandatory only for a trip not exceeding 28 days. In either case, a return delayed by a COVID diagnosis while abroad or affected by UK quarantine rules could cause distress.

Childcare disruption

Issues also arise in day-to-day life, with the furlough scheme winding down and more people returning to the workplace. The ‘Rule of Six’ and other autumn measures may impact the availability of childcare, particularly by friends or relatives that need to avoid any risk of infection. This makes it even more important for co-parents to reach amicable arrangements in the children’s best interest.

With the best will in the world, it’s sometimes hard to find a formula to suit both sides. Consulting a family law expert will often help find a workable solution to childcare, holiday or other problems, possibly through collaborative law or mediation.

Contact familylaw@woodfines.co.uk to see how our team can help find the best outcome for your children.

-Denise Higgins 

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