The season of goodwill can be overshadowed by anxiety about where the children will spend Christmas.
Of all the areas of conflict after the break-up of a family, the question of where the children will spend Christmas is one that can cause most anxiety for both parents.
In particular, if there are ‘his’, ‘hers’ and joint children to consider, juggling holiday arrangements can be fraught with difficulties.
Although parents try to agree arrangements for each parent to see the children over Christmas, inevitably there will be cases where one parent is adamant that the children will spend their entire time with them. This means that the absent parent, usually the father, will spend Christmas without seeing their children.
An amicable discussion is, of course, the best course of action, but if this is not possible, then one party may be faced with court proceedings in order to force the other parent to allow contact. If the parents are not married, such proceedings may need to include an application for parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility gives a mother or father the responsibility of taking all the important decisions in a child’s life, as well as day-to-day decisions. These include consenting to adoption, appointing a guardian and decisions regarding education, religion and medical care.
There is still an important distinction between married and unmarried fathers regarding parental responsibility. Married fathers will only lose parental responsibility through death or adoption. Unmarried fathers can lose parental responsibility by Court Order.
However, the position in relation to an absent, unmarried parent’s rights and responsibilities has changed since December 2003. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 provided a breakthrough in the law for unmarried fathers. Section 111 of the Act gives unmarried fathers parental responsibility automatically if they jointly register the child’s birth with the child’s mother.
This Section applies to children born on or after 1 December 2003. For those children born before this date the father can acquire parental responsibility by marrying the mother, by Court Order or by agreement with the mother on a prescribed printed form. For children born after this date, the registration of the father’s name on the birth certificate will suffice as evidence that the father has parental responsibility.
The courts are of the view that regular contact with both parents is usually in a child’s best interests. It is clearly better for the children in terms of trying to maintain amicable relations between parents as well as being less costly and less time consuming if arrangements can be mutually agreed without the need for court intervention.
Extra effort to maintain harmony should be made during the festive season if at all possible.