It goes without saying that separating and getting divorced from your spouse is a stressful experience no matter how amicable the split has been. This is especially true if children are involved.
Perhaps you have recently come through a difficult divorce and as it is the summer and the kids are off school, you have been thinking that a holiday could be just what the Doctor ordered to help cheer everyone up and forget about their recent experiences?
For many this will sound like an entirely reasonable approach to take, however, for separated or divorced parents, this situation could open up a whole new battlefront to argue over with your Ex.
At Poe Kiely Hogan Solicitors, our family law team is experienced in dealing with all sorts of family dispute and on many occasions have dealt with this exact situation with one parent objecting to the other taking the children on holidays. To assist you in this regard, we have prepared this short guide to try and keep things from boiling over so that you get away on that Summer holiday whilst avoiding a row and even more legal issues to contend with.
- Start Planning As Soon As Possible
Like most things in life it pays to plan in advance. Draw up a list of all the school holidays at the beginning of the year and try to find agreement as early as possible regarding when you might like to take the children away. If there is any disagreement at this point at least you are finding out early and have a much better chance of resolving things in advance.
From a practical perspective the sooner you know when you can take the children away the sooner you can book your holiday and avail of any early bird price deals. It will also be useful to know when the children will be with you over the school holidays and when you may need child care when you are out at work or when they may want to join local summer schemes with their friends.
- Clear Communication
When you have children together there will always be a need to communicate with your Ex. As much as you would like to pretend your Ex never existed, try to find a way to communicate with them for the sake of the children. This applies to all aspects of the children's upbringing, not just planning their Summer holiday, so it is very important to try and establish good ways to communicate as early as possible following your separation or divorce.
If you have plans for a Summer holiday talk to your Ex about it. Whilst this may be difficult for some ex-couples it is better for the overall well-being of your children if you can find some common ground to discuss major issues which relate to them. If you have come through a particularly difficult divorce it is understandable that you might not want to tell them where you are taking the children, however, try to put these feelings aside and think of the greater good.
If a parent has co-parenting responsibilities it is entirely reasonable for them to want to know where their children are going on holidays. A Court will generally agree with this point of view and expect you to tell them where the children will be staying, the dates and times of travel and how to get in touch with them in a time of emergency.
"The more open and flexible you have been with your Ex in the past, the more likely they will agree and go along with your holiday plans."
- Be Flexible
As part of your legal separation you may have set times agreed with your Ex regarding when you will have access to the children. A two week summer holiday is quite likely to have an impact on this, so it is therefore very important that both sides try to remain flexible.
If both parents have set times when they are allowed leave from work then it may also be the case that holiday arrangements will overlap. If this occurs try to step back from a possible disagreement and accept that it may not always be possible to get what you want and that it may be better for the children if you can find a way to compromise.
We have found that some clients find it best for the parents to share the holidays and take the children away for one week each. This way both parents get a holiday and the children can get two. This approach can also allow each parent another week to get away with their friends at a different time of the year.
It is understandable that you may want to have two weeks in the sun with your children, however, if the family circumstances have changed it is important to remain flexible. Another alternative that some of our clients find works for them, is that one parent gets to take the children on holiday one year and the other parent the next. Like everything in life, it is important to find out what is going to work best for you and your children.
- Put The Children First
It goes without saying that children should always come first in any interaction with your Ex. Don't be tempted to use them as a bargaining chip and don't put them in the middle of an argument and turn it into a cruel popularity contest where they have to choose a parent to go on holidays with.
If, however, your children are old enough to have an opinion on where they are going, ask them privately if they are happy to go away and where they might like to go. It may feel strange for them the first few years going away without the other parent, however, it is always good to keep them informed and ask what it is they would like to do.
"No matter what the parents have done to cause the separation/ divorce, this should be put to the side with the only concern being that of the children’s best interests."
- Document Everything
Whilst this may seem like an obvious point, it is important that you document any agreed changes to your normal childcare arrangements, especially if the Court has laid down specific times when each parent will have access to the children.
If you are planning well in advance and you have come to an agreement, you will undoubtedly be marking this down in your diary or a family calendar in the kitchen. For the avoidance of any doubt or confusion, it would also be advisable to document this for your Ex. This does not need to be an official letter from your Solicitor as the more formal the communication is, the more possibility there will be for your Ex to get annoyed and push back on any agreement they have made.
Most of our clients find that a simple email outlining the dates agreed in a factual and non-formal manner helps to avoid the possibility of the other parent 'forgetting' the arrangements and booking something for the children at the same time.
The additional benefit of documenting your agreement, is that should your Ex start to become 'forgetful' and denies ever having agreed to move their weekend with the children in order for you go on holiday, you will have a record of it to show your solicitor.
- 6. Air Any Grievances And Don't Let Them Fester
Understandably, there will be times when things don't go according to plan and you may be upset by something your Ex has done. The majority of these annoyances will be fairly minor in nature and probably not worth causing a row over, however, if something is really bugging you, we would recommend that you talk to your Ex to try and get to the bottom of it and not let it fester.
"In our experience, if a situation festers it has the potential to blow up into a nasty row where something could be said or done which will be difficult to come back from and start afresh."
Common situations which we come have across include when one parent moves on and begins to date someone else. In situations such as these, it is inevitable that the other parent will be concerned about how their children will be cared for when they are with their Ex and the new partner is there.
This will understandably be very difficult for any parent to cope with, especially when it comes to going on holiday for the first time. If you feel that your Ex has not been with their new partner for long enough, or their new partner is not experienced in looking after children, this may be something that you would want to discuss with your partner in private.
As this could become a fairly contentious topic of conversation, try to keep the emotions to a minimum and reason with your Ex regarding why you think it may be too soon to introduce the children. If you cannot find an agreement to a situation such as this, you may want to speak to our family law team regarding your best next steps.
Other questions which we are often asked by clients include:
- My Ex won’t tell me where they are going on holidays with the children
- How do I know my children will be safe and cared for properly when they are away?
- I don’t want my children going back to my Ex’s home country
If you are in doubt and cannot find a way to resolve an issue, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
- When All Else Fails
It would always be our advice that a child's parents are the best people to make decisions regarding their upbringing. When a marriage has broken down, however, there is usually some form of acrimony regarding the reasons for the breakdown. Despite this, we would recommend that parents who have separated or divorced should try to find it within themselves to resolve any negative situations for the good of their children and find a way to communicate with one another - if only to ensure the best upbringing for their children.
Unfortunately, separation and divorce are fairly contentious and emotional issues and one or both parents may be unwilling or unable to rise above their personal differences for the sake of their children's well-being and a lot of nasty things may be said or done. In situations such as these, if you feel there is no way to resolve things or there is a complete refusal to communicate and abide by particular orders of the Court, please speak to one of our family law solicitors to find a way to resolve the situation.
As we have said previously, it is always best to try and find a resolution between yourselves without involving others, however, a letter from your solicitor reminding them of their duties under the terms of their legal separation or divorce may be sufficient without having to go back to Court to ask a Judge to rule on the best way forward.
If you feel it is time to speak to a family law solicitor, write down each of the concerns you have and what you would like to achieve from the process. This will help you to frame your discussion with your solicitor and help them to ascertain what the key issues at play are.
Going on holidays is supposed to be a happy and relaxing time so plan things as early as possible and try to get your Ex on side from the beginning. If things don’t run smoothly try to remain flexible and remember that the most important thing you can both do is to remove yourself from your personal feelings and think about the well-being of your children.
No matter how difficult your divorce was, or the reasons for it, your children still connect you with your Ex. For their sake try to find a way to work with each other and let the other person move on with their life (whilst maintaining their responsibilities as a parent). Try not to stick your heels in just for the sake of it or feel the need to emotionally blackmail the children.
Whilst it may be tempting, don’t use the children (or their passports) as a bargaining chip either. Try to rise above it and put the children first at all times and before you know it you will be lying on the beach watching your children playing in the waves and it will all have been worthwhile.