The festive season may not (quite) be cancelled, but there is a strong possibility that it’s going to need to be held virtually. That may not be glad tidings but preparing now could help to make it a lot less bad. Here are some tips.
Get your plans in place now
This year plans probably should mean plans, best case through worst case. Worst case should be that one of you has to see your children virtually over the Christmas period.
Focus on what is best for the children
Nobody wants to miss even a single Christmas with their children, but you must think long-term. The simple fact is that the odds of contracting COVID19 increase in line with the level of exposure to it. The odds of surviving it unscathed do not. There will be other Christmases if you manage this one safely.
Decide if you need legal advice
There are basically two ways you agree who has the children with them and for what days over the holidays. The first is that you and your ex sort it out between yourselves. The second is that you apply to a court for a Specific Issues Order in relation to the Christmas holidays.
There are all kinds of reasons why the first option is always preferable. Prior to the second option you are obliged to attempt mediation. This year, you can add blockages in the court system to the list. If you must go down the court route, then you need to act quickly. You may want to (continue) to try to reach an agreement while you are waiting to have your case heard.
Coordinate your schedules
Agree in advance when the “virtual parent” is going to see the children on Christmas day. Even if it seems a bit regimented, it’s best to agree how often the children are going to be online, at what times and for how long. This keeps everyone on the same page and makes it possible for people to plan out their whole day effectively. It also makes it possible for you to set realistic expectations with your children.
Think about how you could make the distance work
See if you can find ways to make a virtue out of necessity. For example, maybe the virtual parent can distract the children while the real-world parent organises a Christmas surprise for them. Alternatively, maybe you can use the technology to deliver a surprise, like a visit from Santa.
Choose the right technology
If you have a smart TV (or the budget to buy one), then it may be the perfect option for video calling as it’s almost certainly the biggest screen in the house. If you don’t then look at all your other options. For example, rigging up a laptop with a webcam might be easier than using a tablet and certainly easier than using a smartphone.
Make sure everyone knows how to use the technology
This may seem like stating the obvious but have a dry run of the technology before the big day. That will unearth any potential issues, like you wanting to use FaceTime only to discover that your ex is now using an Android phone.
Caroline Ford is a Partner at Fletcher Day. Caroline has specialised in family law since 2001 and in particular, divorce and the financial aspect of relationship breakdown as a result of divorce or separation as well as financial provision for children (Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989).