What all separated parents should know before the holiday season. Use this legal advice to ensure that the holidays go by smoothly.
School is out and the holidays are here. This is a time of year when children get a break from the long school hours, early mornings, homework and exams. It is a welcomed relief to most parents and children. Parents no longer have to deal with homework, washing of school clothing and making sure their children arrive at school on time. Of course, there are other challenges. For example, the children would need to be entertained and be cared for during the day. Sometimes whilst the parents are at work.
Contact arrangements during school holidays
During the school holidays, contact arrangements of separated parents concerning their children would change. Children would usually be one full-half of the holidays with one parent, which half would alternate each year. The split usually takes place after Christmas. Some parents follow a week-on, and week-off arrangement. On a rare occasion, the parent continues with contact as they have during the school term. This may apply to parents who are working during the holidays.
So most of the time, during a period in the holidays, one parent cares for the child; then the other can take a break from caring. If the mother is the primary caregiver, she can use this time to go on a mini-vacation or catch up on her reading or go out on an outing with her friend. Therefore holiday time could be very beneficial to the child and parents concerned.
Sometimes one parent wants to go on a holiday overseas with the child to visit a relative, but consent is not forthcoming from the other parent. And other times, a parent wants to have more contact than they usually exercise, which would infringe the other party’s contact rights. On the flip side, a parent may not be available to care for the child during the holidays due to work, or other reasons. These and other issues can arise during the school holidays. This article will try to address some of these scenarios, with some advice, and advise on when to approach the court should they not be able to resolve them. Now let us begin.
Parenting arrangements for separated parents during the holidays
Parenting arrangements for separated parents can come in various forms. It may either be in the form of a mediated parenting plan, informal documented arrangement, or an order of Court. In other cases, the parties have some type of verbal agreement which they follow and confirm via email or text messages. Some parents use the children as the go-between to arrange holiday contact.
Should the parents adhere to the terms of the agreement; no problems would arise during the holidays. A well deserved holiday would be on the horizon. However, our experiences are that during the end of the year holiday, problems are more likely to arise than at any other time of the year. This would be so notwithstanding there is a binding legal agreement in place. This article will attempt to highlight those problems and also provide you with workable solutions to avoid them. Let us start with the usual holiday contact.
Holiday contact – All families are different
All families are different. The type of contact a parent would have to a child during the holidays would vary from family to family. This would depend on the various family dynamics. For example, the age of the children, and whether or not the parents are working during the school holidays. Another factor is whether or not they live close to each other. Whatever the Dynamics, the parenting arrangement should be workable and sensible.
Equal sharing of long and short school holidays
The usual parenting agreement would be for the parents to share school holidays equally. Of course, not all parents have the privilege of not having to work during school holidays. It is therefore important that prior to the holidays, parents come to a workable agreement on how contact should be exercised during that period. This is not only in the child’s best interest but in the interests of the parents concerned. Parents will not want to spend their entire holiday fighting over contact. They should use this time to spend quality time with the children and also to enjoy the holiday season.
What all separated parents should do before the holidays
A few months before the holidays, the parents should discuss contact for that period. What worked a few years ago when the children were young might not be applicable today. For example, now the children have to attend school camp or attend to additional tuition. Furthermore, they may want to go away to a sporting event for the holidays. Notwithstanding the various dynamics, the parents have to come to an agreement regarding how contact should be exercised during school holidays way in advance. Obviously, during the school term, their schedule is set.
What to do if an agreement cannot be reached
Should the parents not be able to come to an agreement regarding contact during the school holidays, it is important for them to have a look at the parenting plan or Order of court in this regard. Usually, the parenting plan would deal with facilitation or mediation, as well as the Court Order. If it does not, it is strongly advised that you approach a mediator to assist in resolving the care and contact issues for the holidays. If that is not possible, then read on to learn more regarding some possible solutions.
When to approach the Court regarding holiday contact?
The last resort for parents who cannot agree on contact during the holidays is for them to approach the court. Even if there is a court order in place, but it has since become impractical, one would expect parents to act reasonably. However, if one parent is adamant that the court order should be followed, then approaching the court is the route to follow. But before doing so, it may be wise to see a legal practitioner for legal advice on the specific issue. An attorney may also send the other parent a letter. This may resolve matters. Let us look at a few examples of when approaching the court would be necessary.
Refusal of Contact when there is no order in place
If there is no court order in place, and the primary caregiver refuses you contact to your child, then first try to mediate the matter. Trying to enter into a parenting plan would be a wise idea. If that is not possible, or fails, then approaching the court would be the next step to follow. A family law attorney would be able to assist you.
There is a Court Order in place
Let’s say there is a contact court order in place. However, it is outdated and not workable. This is so because the children are now teenagers, and contact should be no longer every second day, but for a week at a time. This is not only practical but also what the children want. If there is a parenting plan in place, that allows for the mediation of such a matter, then mediation should be followed. If not, then a variation of the court order would be warranted. The court would always look at what is best for the children, and not what the parents want.
Refusal to give consent to take the minor child on holiday overseas
Both parents who hold parental responsibilities and rights of guardianship should consent to the minor child leaving South Africa for visits overseas. However, it often happens that custody agreements or Court orders don’t deal with this scenario. When the party separated they did not foresee the possibility of the child wanting to leave the country with the other parent. Nonetheless, this scenario is a reality. The parties, therefore, have to be sensible and come to an amicable agreement regarding it. If they cannot come to an agreement regarding the minor child leaving the country with the other parent then, unfortunately, the court should be approached.
Refusal to give consent for the minor child to obtain a passport
When the children were young at the time of divorce or separation, the parents may not have seen the necessity for them to obtain a passport. However, things changed. Now that their children are teenagers they may want to travel overseas with a parent. Should this occur they would have to obtain a passport.
Here too the law says that both parents should consent for the application of a passport if they are both guardians. Therefore, if one parent does not consent then the High Court should be approached. This would be very unfortunate seeing that High Court litigation is very expensive. The parties would have to appoint a legal practitioner to make the application to the court and oppose it if necessary. This would not be in the minor child’s best interest. Nonetheless, the court will decide what is best for the minor child concerned.
Child maintenance during the festive season
Lastly, we would like to touch on the issue regarding child maintenance during the festive season. During holiday times, children become more expensive. They eat more, want to go out more, and at the same time use more water and electricity at home. Unfortunately, these added expenses can burden a parent caring for children during the holiday season. We, therefore, advise parents to timeously discuss these issues and see whether or not they can come to an agreement regarding the expenses of the child during the holidays.
Unfortunately, if a parent does not want to contribute more than he or she is currently contributing; the other parent would have to approach the maintenance court. The sad reality of this is that the maintenance court can take many months to finalize such an issue. We, therefore, implore on all separated parents to be cognizant of this fact and try to be more generous regarding child maintenance during the holiday season.
Final words of advice two parents who are separated during the festive season
As outlined above, it is important that parents timelessly come to an agreement regarding contact in relation to a minor child during the festive season. If they do not do that, many problems can arise in the future. Of them could be limited or no contact with a minor child. It could also mean that a court should be approached should one parent not decide to provide contact to the minor child. This can all be avoided should the parties work together in what is best for the minor child concerned.
If however, the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding contact, consent to travel abroad, or apply for a passport for a minor child; then the parents would have to resolve this matter in the High Court. This is best to be avoided at all costs.
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