A Guide for Separated Parents at Christmas

With 10 sleeps until Santa comes (as I was so excitedly told by my boss when I arrived in the office this morning!) our thoughts turn to friends, family, fizz, gifts, fizz, selection boxes, presents and of course, fizz! Christmas is usually a time for family, especially children. But, for separated families, it can be a time of increased pressure and unhappiness. You may find it incredibly hard to be away from your children for even a few hours on Christmas day but here are some helpful hints and pointers (from the centre for separated families) which may help make the day, and the rest of the holidays, a little easier for everyone. Maybe not for all, but fingers crossed.

If your children will spend time with both of you
Try to agree, as early as possible, how your children will spend time with each of you. It isn’t important that they spend exactly the same amount of time with you both. What’s important is that the time is as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. Think about how it may be possible for your children to spend some quality time with both of you that allows everyone to get something of what they would like.

Make any hand-over as easy as possible
If your children will be spending time in two places, make sure that the transition is as simple as possible. The last thing your children want is to see their mum and dad arguing. Agree when, where and how your children will move between you. Stick to your agreement and contact each other if there needs to be any changes. If seeing each other is too difficult, think about people who may be able to help at hand-over such as grandparents or friends.

When time with both of you isn’t possible
If it is not possible for your children to spend time with both of you on the day, try to think about ways that you can share the celebration with your children at another time and make that as special as possible. A phone call on, or a special letter for the day can help children feel connected and reduce any anxiety. If your children’s other parent doesn’t seem interested, might it be possible to encourage them just to send a card?

Don’t compete over presents
Some separated parents find it possible to share present buying and giving. However, for many, this isn’t realistic. If you are buying presents separately, try to agree who will buy what. It can be very difficult if one parent has more money than the other. So try not to compete over who will buy the biggest or the best present – it just isn’t in your children’s best interests.

Think about extended family
Try to make time for grandparents, aunts and uncles if your children are used to seeing them at Christmas. If it is too difficult to spend time with them, then a phone call will help everyone stay in touch.

Think about new partners and other children
If there is a new partner in your life, think about how that will affect your arrangements. How will your children feel about that? How will your new partner feel about it? How will you children’s other parent feel about it? What about step-siblings and half-siblings? Try to find a way forward that means that as little friction as possible. But be honest about what you want, too.

Don’t require your children to make the decisions
It is important that children, especially younger ones, are not required to make decisions on your behalf. Talk to all the adults involved, talk to your children if they are old enough, decide what is best and then tell your children what has been decided.

When you are unable to see or contact your children
Being prevented from seeing or contacting your children, for whatever reason, is usually a very painful experience. Times of celebration can be especially difficult. Many parents in this position find their own way of marking the occasion. It can be helpful to try and make contact with other parents in a similar position as a way of offering and receiving support. If you are unable to buy your child a present or show them that you are thinking about them, you may wish to consider buying a different kind of gift. For example, you can name a star, adopt an animal, plant a tree or make a donation to a charity on their behalf.

Look after yourself
Christmas for separated families can be an emotionally difficult time. Not only for children, but for parents as well. This may be your first Christmas without your children or without your husband, wife or partner. Take some time to think about how you might feel and then think about ways of coping. If old traditions are too painful, create some new ones. If you won’t have chance to see your children, write a letter and raise a toast to them. If you are going to be on your own, with or without your children, think about whether you might spend some time with friends or relatives.

So hopefully some of this advice will be useful. No matter what, have as nice a day as possible. Get stuck into the big box of Quality Street (it’s Christmas so chocolate is allowed as soon as you open your eyes!), have some fizz (did I mention that?!) followed by a wee snooze before the last ever Downtown Abbey! And from all of us at MTM Family Law, Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2016.

Please note our offices are closed from 12 noon on Thursday 24th December 2015, until 9am on Tuesday 5th January 2016. If you require urgent family law advice during this time then please email us on general@mtmfamilylaw.co.uk.

Holidays are Coming!

Holidays are Coming!

With summer rapidly approaching and holidays on the horizon, if you haven’t yet got a passport for your child, then get your skates on! I have just received a renewal passport for my daughter, and head off to sunnier climes in 38 days time (not that I’m counting!). I actually used the Government’s online passport service, completed the information and paid the fee, then printed off the form and sent it with a counter signed photograph to the Passport Office. Eight days later the new passport arrived! However, please allow as much time as possible as it is likely the Passport Office will get busier, the closer we get to the school summer holidays!

So, who is able to sign the child’s first passport or renewal passport application? Such applications require to be completed by a person with parental responsibility in relation to the child. The law in Scotland (which differs from the law in England and Wales) provides that the mother of a child can sign the passport application. Who the “mother” is may seem obvious, but it is the woman who gave birth to the child. This can cause a few difficulties in surrogacy situations, but the woman who gives birth to the child is the mother of the child for all legal purposes (until such time as that is changed, either by a parental order or by adoption).

The rules regarding fathers are slightly different, and the rules also depend on when the child was born and his or her birth registration. The important date is 4th May 2006, as this is the date that the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 provisions came into force.

For children born in Scotland, whose births were registered before 4th May 2006, if the child’s parents were married to each other then both parents have equal parental rights and responsibilities and either can sign. If the child’s parents were not married at the time the birth was registered, but have subsequently married, then both mother and father can sign the passport application. Even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, but the child’s parents were not and have never been married to each other, the father in these circumstances is generally unable to sign.

For children born and whose births are registered after 4th May 2006, an unmarried dad can acquire parental rights and responsibilities if he is named on the birth certificate and both parents jointly register the birth, meaning either can apply for a passport. If the child’s parents are married to each other, then both parents have equal rights and responsibilities at the time of birth and subsequently (unless removed by order of the court), therefore either parent can complete the passport application.

Parental rights and responsibilities can also be acquired by the mother completing a Parental Responsibilities and Parental Rights Agreement in terms of section 4 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (or in some same sex situations a section 4A Agreement can be completed), or if the court has made an order granting the other party parental rights and responsibilities.

In some situations the court may also grant orders for parental rights and responsibilities to persons other than parents for example grandparents, step- parents, aunts and uncles. Even though a court may make an order of contact between a child and a parent, if that is the only order made, this does not entitle the parent exercising contact to complete a passport application. If the unmarried father is not named on the birth certificate and doesn’t fall into a category detailed above he cannot apply for a passport.

If there is any doubt as to who can complete the application or who has parental rights and responsibilities entitling them to complete the application then full advice can be found on the Government website www.gov.scot . Alternatively, give us a call and we would be happy to help!