Preparing For School Holidays When You Are Separated Or Divorced
School holidays can be fun and stressful at the same time. If you work, there is the need to organise reliable and engaging childcare. If you are separated from your child’s other parent, there is the additional dynamic of agreeing who is going to spend what time with the children and where.
How early should I plan holiday dates?
Both parents should know the term times and holiday dates well in advance. In the internet age, check the school’s or local authority’s website. Once the school calendar dates have been published, think about sitting down together and discussing the whole year in one go. If you want to go away, the holiday time will need to be booked from work, and this is often a precious commodity in the workplace. Be considerate of the other parent wanting time away with the children as well. By agreeing this early on, you are both clear of when your weeks will be and can plan accordingly.
Should I talk to my ex-partner or spouse directly?
It can sometimes be difficult to talk directly to an ex-partner or spouse. Even if you find communication difficult, try to discuss and agree some arrangements. Email or text is alright but face to face is the best approach. There needs to be some give and take. If one of you wishes to spend time with the children during a particular half term this year, let the other have the same period next year. It is good for your children to see you discussing arrangements and being co-parents as it reinforces to them that you both plan an equally important role in their lives.
Should I talk to the children?
Depending on their ages, listen to your children. It is their holiday as well. If they want to do a certain activity each week, make sure that their other parent is aware of this. Do not however put the final decision on to the children. They should not be drawn into what you, as the parent, need to organise, and certainly should not feel like pawns in a game of chess between you and your ex-partner or spouse.
Should I consider my ex-partner or spouse’s feelings?
Put yourself in the shoes of the other parent for a moment; treat them as you would wish to be treated yourself. Remember to check if there is any homework that will need to be done whilst on holiday, and do not return the children with a bag full of dirty laundry. Do let your ex-partner know to watch out for any changes in particular behaviours of the children, but be sensitive about how you handle this so you do not appear condescending.
Do I need permission from my ex-partner or spouse if I am taking the children abroad?
Very likely, yes - make sure you discuss this with the other parent early on and get their written permission. It is not commonly known but if you do not have a court order stating that the children live with you (and most families will not have this), then you can (if the other parent has "parental responsibility") actually commit a criminal offence if you take the children out of the country without the other parent’s permission.
Check if the country you are going to has any particular requirements. For example, South Africa now requires a copy of the child’s full birth certificate, and copies of the other parent’s passport and written permission certified by a solicitor, so you need to think about this in advance. If you do have a court order stating that the children are to live with you, you are allowed to take them away for up to one month, but do still try to get the other parent’s permission as, if nothing else, this helps with communication for the rest of the year. Make sure that you give the other parent plenty of details of where you will be staying and perhaps offer to organise for the children to telephone, Facetime or Skype while you are away (especially if they would ordinarily see their other parent during this time).
What if we cannot agree arrangements?
If the other parent will not agree, do speak to a specialist family solicitor. They can advise you of your options and communicate with the other parent, as well as signpost you to specially trained third parties who can also assist - such as a mediator. If it is not possible to reach agreement with the help of a third party then it is possible to ask for the court’s assistance in working through this type of difficulty proving assistance is sought well in advance of the school holidays.
Do not forget the return to school…
The holidays will come to an end and your children will be going back to school. When you are planning childcare and when the children will spend time with the other parent, make sure you plan for a couple of days when you can go shopping for uniform and school shoes - again, try and agree well in advance who will pay for these items. And most importantly, try to enjoy the holidays!
Rachael House www.mackrell.com
Rachael is a specialist family solicitor at Mackrell Turner Garrett.