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.

CHANGES IN CHARGES FOR CHILDREN

As from 30th June 2014, anyone who makes an application for child support maintenance to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has to pay a £20 fee to the Secretary of State, to enable child support calculations to be commenced.  The application fee will be waived if the applicant is under 19 or is a victim of domestic violence or abuse.  For a person to be considered “a victim of domestic violence or abuse” for these purposes, the abuse must have been reported to “an appropriate person” such as a Court, the police, a medical professional, social or educational services, a lawyer or a specialist support organisation including refuge.

Under the Child Support Fees (Regulations) 2014, in addition to the initial £20 application fee, a further “collection charge” will apply to both the paying parent and the receiving payment if the “Collect and Pay” option is used.  In this case, the paying parent will have to pay the assessed maintenance plus an additional 20% collection fee. The receiving parent will also pay a 4% collection fee which is to be deducted from the maintenance amount. So if the assessed maintenance amount is £100 per week, then the paying parent will have to pay £120, but the receiving parent will only get £96 of this. The DWP is effectively charging parents a total of 24%  of assessed child maintenance to use its Child Maintenance Service. According to some figures, the estimated revenue from collection fees may be as high as £1.2 billion over the next ten years.  Initially, the proposed charges were higher but even these charges as introduced will have an impact on low income families with money going to the DWP rather than the children for whom financial assistance is actually intended.

Not everyone will need to pay collection charges: collection fees will not need to be paid if the parties agree and are able to use the “Direct Pay” option (for Child Maintenance Service cases) (or the “Maintenance Direct” option for certain pre-existing claims through the Child Support Agency). This is where the amount of maintenance is calculated, but is not collected. The paying parent makes payment direct to the receiving parent and neither have to pay any collections fees.

If payments are not maintained then the receiving parent can ask the CMS (or CSA) to take action to enforce payment.  With older Child Support Agency cases both parents must agree to use “Maintenance Direct” before it can be set up and there will be no collection fees or enforcement charges if the case moves to the collection service. However, with new applications which must now proceed through the Child Maintenance Service, enforcing payment will mean changing a case to “Collect & Pay” in which case both parents will have to pay collection fees and the paying parent will have to pay enforcement charges as well.

Parents who have existing Child Support cases will shortly receive letters from the Child Maintenance Service advising them their cases will close in six months unless they convert to the new child support system.  Whilst the ethos behind the introduction of the new changes and the new charges is to encourage estranged partners to communicate with each other better (and deal with finances for their children themselves rather than through the Government) it is often exceedingly difficult for separated parents to communicate about even the most routine of matters, such as dates and times for contact, never mind the touchy subject of finances, particularly in the aftermath of what could have been acrimonious relationship breakdown.

 

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Relationships. They’re great. Well, most of the time! Ok, most of the time when the going is good. But they can also be really hard work sometimes! Having just come back from the launch of “The Spark” it made me realise that no one actually tells you how difficult a relationship can be. Not just a relationship with a partner or spouse, but all sorts of relationships can have their ups and downs – relationships with parents, siblings, colleagues, and employers to name just a few. (Luckily I have lovely colleagues and bosses and as they check the content of my blog before it goes online I feel I better be clear about that!) And its not just me who thinks that you need to work at a relationship: a huge number of people are calling the Relationship Helpline (tel 0808 802 2088) for different sorts of advice in all sorts of relationships.

When “The Spark” first started out as Scottish Marriage Care in 1965 they provided marriage guidance only. But times have changed. Now, “The Spark” offers telephone support and online counselling so that regardless of geography, people all over Scotland can access counselling services. Services cover every stage in relationships from the first flush of romance through to support for new parents, coping with teenagers, all the way through to relationships in later years. Help is available for those in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. You can get additional information online at www.thespark.org.uk. They are the relationship experts.

Should you consider seeking relationship support before deciding to separate or divorce? It won’t be appropriate in all cases, but it could help. Some people I’m sure will find the word “counselling” off-putting. Maybe if you know someone who would simply benefit from a chat about what’s going on in their life, it might be more appealing for them to think of it in that way. I’m not on commission from BT but “it’s good to talk”! Actually, whilst it is good to talk, you don’t even need to speak to anyone face to face – you can just pick up the phone or simply go online in your lunchbreak or when the kids are in bed.

Hopefully “The Spark” might help. Its worth a shot if it’s appropriate in your case. But if not, and you need specialist family law advice for a separation or divorce, or contact issues with children, or aliment or maintenance or any other family law matter, get in touch with us at MTM Family Law instead. We’re not the relationship experts but we are experts in family law.