Imran Khodabocus, Associate Solicitor from The Family Law Company, looks at how school holidays can affect existing parenting plans and child arrangement orders…

SCHOOL holidays cannot override child arrangements orders setting out when one parent should spend time with their children. If one parent is supposed to have the children at a weekend during the summer holidays under the terms of a court order and this clashes with the holiday plans of another parent, the children cannot go on that holiday.

The way around this is to see if you can agree with the other parent to make occasional changes for periods like school holidays. Courts do expect such alterations to court orders, particularly as children get older. Try to confirm any changes in writing. You could, if you know which weeks you usually take your holiday with the children, provide for this in a court order – for example specifying the second and third week of the school holidays.

The school holidays naturally cause disruption to day-to-day parenting and many parents find it hard to balance having to work with childcare. Sometimes extended family members such as grandparents will be able to help. Otherwise, plan in advance to help you to deal with anything unexpected.

Is there any flexibility to extend access periods to allow for long-haul travel?

Yes. Many parents I work with have family living a long distance away, so an extended holiday makes sense. The key to successfully arranging such a trip is to explain the need to the other parent. The more organised you are, the more reassured the other parent will be, particularly if the trip involves younger children. If your trip is to visit distant family members, reassure the other parent by asking them to see the visit’s benefits through your children’s eyes. If the other parent doesn’t agree, you may have to apply to the court for a court order.

What happens if unforeseen circumstance such as flight cancellations and delays mean I can’t keep to an agreed timetable?

This happens a lot and is no-one’s fault. The key is to communicate any problems to the other parent so they can be reassured about the children’s wellbeing. If there is a court order, you shouldn’t end up being penalised by the other parent having to miss a day due to travel problems.

Do I need permission from my ex-partner as to where I take my child on holiday and what activities they can do?

If you and your ex-partner share parental responsibility then you will need written permission to go outside of England and Wales with the children. You may have parental responsibility if you are or were married or in a civil partnership with the other parent, or if you are named on the child’s birth certificate. If one of you has a Child Arrangements Order stating that the children live with you, then you can go abroad for up to a month without needing the other’s written consent. However, holidays are always more enjoyable when the children know that they have gone away without the other parent feeling upset. This is why I recommend letting the other parent know of any holidays in advance. In terms of activities, you are free to do what you all enjoy.

What happens if an extended family member wishes to take my child abroad?

Most extended family members have no automatic right to spend time with your children, let alone go away with them, and will need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility. However, many parents value the time children spend with extended family members and welcome such an opportunity for their children. Plan well in advance and let the other parent know early on. Be prepared to compromise if the other parent needs you to. If they are not happy, then either the extended family member could come on holiday with you or make their own application to court.

If they do, they may have to first obtain the court’s permission, which is known as ‘leave’. There are some family members who do not need ‘leave’ – for example if the child has lived with them for a certain period of time. When looking at ‘leave’, a court will consider the nature of what’s being applied for and the connection with the child. Only if they are granted ‘leave’ will a court consider if it is in the child’s best interests to spend time with extended family members for a holiday. A court will look individually at every case, so it is worth them getting expert legal advice.

What happens if the school holidays and my need to work cause a childcare headache? Can I ask my ex to do more?

Yes, you can. However, there is nothing you can do to force your ex to do more. Instead, try to plan for school holidays early and see if you can have flexibility at work. This gives more time for the other parent to make changes to their own schedule. Having to juggle school holidays and work means you may have to call on extended family members to help – no doubt they will enjoy the chance to spend more time with the children.

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