Whilst children look forward to the summer holidays with fevered anticipation, it can be a source of stress for many parents, in particular in families where both parents have full time jobs outside of the home. It might seem that separated parents should be under less pressure as they arguably have two lots of holiday entitlements to give more cover to the 6 or 9 week break from school.
However the school holidays can set up a fresh set of problems for separated parents that can increase rather than reduce tensions in both households.
A source of stress for separated parents?
One of the issues that often comes in to play is what happens to a pre-existing visit or care pattern? If a child spends every other weekend and one night each week with one parent in term time, does that carry on during the school holidays? It may be clear that it needs to be suspended when one or other parent takes the child away on an actual holiday, but what about those weeks in between when little Johnny is at a holiday club or Grandma comes to stay to help out?
Frequently where there are court orders in place this has been anticipated and the order makes a demarcation between term time and holiday periods and the different arrangements for each. If this is not the case, remembering that spending time with a parent is about what is right for the child and not the parent, it makes sense to look at the practical arrangements for cover and how the term time arrangements fit in (or complicate) those.
What is right for the child?
For some parents, the fact that collection and return happen at the beginning or end of the school day, can create real concern when the school is closed. The answer is generally to find a neutral location where there are plenty of people about but that is relatively child friendly, so that the transition for your child in moving from one parent to another is as normal as possible. If that is not feasible, then it may make sense to involve a third party to transport the children between the parents, especially if the frequency of handover is reduced during the summer because blocks of time are taken with each parent.
Leaving the country
I mentioned having an actual holiday with your child earlier. Again this can be a minefield because, unless you hold a residence or “live with” order, you require the consent of the other parent to take a child out of England and Wales. That parent can properly withhold their consent until they have full details as to the exact location of the holiday down to the address of the hotel or other base, details of flights and emergency contact numbers. Sometimes this level of detail cannot be provided until the booking has actually been secured so there can be practical difficulties in tying the pieces together in a workable fashion. Again it is good to remember that both parents want their children to have a good time and so flexibility over provision of this information can be really helpful – but should not be abused or there will be a lack of trust the following year. Some court orders provide that holiday plans are provided by a set date much earlier in the year, enabling parents to try to book ahead and save money and this is a good practice to follow.
Communication and compromise
A lot of these issues centre around communication and frequently the Judges or CAFCASS officers seem to believe that just instructing separated parents to improve communication will sort out all the problems. That does not recognise that poor communication is not always two sided or that sometimes well meaning messages are misconstrued. It is helpful to have planned ahead, not least so if there is an insurmountable problem there is enough time to take the matter to a mediator or, if really necessary to a Judge, for resolution.
Often addressing the issues at mediation or in court will mean there is then a plan in place, a template for future summers. However children grow up and what works for children when they are 6 and 7 is not what they want when they are 13 or 14. One of the skills of being a parent is to balance what a child says he or she wants with what will be of most benefit to them, but as this can be very subjective it is also something parents can disagree on. One parent may favour a football training academy for two weeks of the holiday; the other may feel that downtime with family will refresh the child for the academic year ahead. The solution here is compromise and this is the mantra handed down by Judge and mediators alike.
Sitting down with the other parent, either with your respective lawyers or with a mediator is the common sense way to resolve any of the issues identified above and has the benefit of a clear record being created of what has been agreed, which will hopefully mean the same issues do not need to be revisited next year.