The summer holidays, for any parent, is an annual event that requires the three Ps – Planning, Preparation and Patience! For separated parents, this can apply even more when trying to negotiate and agree the time spent with their child or children.
Often, where there is a Child Arrangement Order or “CAO” already in place, there may be provision specifically for the school holidays which are prescribed or loosely defined e.g, “the child is to spend an equal amount of time with each parent during the school holidays”. Even if this is the case for your client(s), it would still require communication and negotiation between the parents.
For separated families without a formal CAO in place, parents need to try and agree the arrangements between themselves. Depending on their relationship, this can prove to be stressful and complicated, and as a Solicitor supporting a parent in this situation, it is important that this stress is not underestimated. It may cause additional conflict between the parents which could impact on the child or children emotionally.
The summer break, particularly for families with school-age children, is often a prime time for family holidays either at home or abroad, which may also be an area of contention between the separated parents.
Where a CAO is in force and it specifies who a child is to live with, they are legally able to take them out of the UK for a holiday for up to one month, without the consent of the other people with parental responsibility (PR) for that child.
Those with PR that are not named as the person with whom the child is to live, will still need to have the consent of the other person/people with PR for the child.
Where there is no CAO in place, parents or other people wanting to take the child out of the UK on holiday abroad will need consent from all people with PR for the child.
It is always best to advise clients to obtain consent in writing. Equally, as a solicitor representing one of the parties, written consent is again advised and best practice for the consent to be taken on their journey abroad, should any need arise for it whilst they are away.
Top tips for your clients
In circumstances where a child shares their time between parents, the school summer holidays could be split into blocks of two-weeks with each parent and two, one week blocks. A week on/week off basis is also common and occasionally, particularly where parents wish to spend an extended break abroad, two three-week blocks often work well.
If the time a child or children spends with one parent is more occasional generally e.g. daytime contact only, one day a fortnight, one day a week, etc, it may be in the child’s best interests to maintain the status quo during the school holidays and stay with the normal arrangement that is in place during school term time.
The aim of the Family Court is to always achieve an arrangement that is in the child’s best interests, taking into account various factors set out in the ‘Welfare Checklist’ which can be found in Section 1 of The Children Act 1989.
The first consideration is the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, considered in light of their age and understanding. Therefore, when planning out what contact or time a child spends with each of their parents during summer holidays, the child’s own wishes may well be a helpful indication.
Parenting plans can be a really useful tool for agreeing and setting out child arrangements generally or specifically in relation to the summer holidays. There is a helpful plan that can be completed on the Cafcass website.
Written by Penny-jo Wilson, Senior Associate at Harrison Clark Rickerbys
07890 626 254