What are my options for agreeing school holiday arrangements with my ex-partner?

Whether you love them or loathe them, the school summer holidays are just around the corner. This should be a period when children enjoy a break from school to spend quality time with family and friends. However, if parents are separated or divorced, it can sometimes be difficult to agree on arrangements.

Louise Daniel, a family law solicitor at WHN’s Haslingden office, suggests how holiday breaks can be amicably shared between separated parents and offers further guidance regarding other school holidays, religious celebrations, birthdays and similar family events.

What do I need to consider when planning holidays with my children?

The first consideration for all holiday arrangements is what is best for your children.

If you are divorced or separated and a court order has been made in respect of your children, any defined holiday arrangements, as set out in the court order, must be followed.

In most cases, separated parents do not have a court order stating these necessary arrangements. It is therefore up to the parents to try and resolve matters between themselves regarding holiday arrangements.

If this is not possible, it may require the assistance of mediation and / or a solicitor or ultimately the court.

A court would expect that the children’s time during holiday breaks should be shared between parents, but this may not always be on an equal basis, and again, would depend on the circumstances of each case.

When agreeing school holiday arrangements, each parent’s working commitments will also need to be considered, along with their availability, the distance between each family home and any other circumstances relevant to the case. Arrangements will also depend on the children’s age and level of dependency.

Ideally agreements need to be made well in advance of each holiday period. In some cases, it may be easier to agree a pattern for holidays on a yearly basis so everyone, including the children, knows the arrangements and parents can make holiday plans well in advance.

What are my options for the summer holidays?

The school summer holidays are usually between six and seven weeks in length. Some families prefer to agree a ‘week-on-week off’ arrangement where one parent has the first, third and fifth week of the holiday with the children, and the other parent would have the second, fourth and sixth week of the holiday.

Other alternatives would be a one week on, two weeks off arrangement which enables either parent the option to take the children on holiday for a fortnight.

Any arrangement that involves taking children away on holiday should be undertaken with the agreement of the other parent, with reasonable notice provided along with the dates, flight information and details regarding accommodation.

It is important to note that many employers are considerate regarding requests for holidays from separated parents within the school holiday season, but it is not a legal obligation.

What holiday provisions can I make during half term breaks?

There are three half term holidays each year, usually for one week, in October, February and May. Options available to share the holidays could include one parent always having the same week each year, for example you have the children for October half term, and your ex-partner has the children during the February and May breaks.

This arrangement could then alternate each year. Alternatively there could be an arrangement where each parent has one full week at half term and the one remaining week is shared.

If a one week shared holiday is to be considered, and normal term time arrangements involve alternate weekend contact, it may be beneficial to arrange for the children to continue to spend the first half the week, for example, until Wednesday lunchtime with the parent who has their care for the first weekend of the holiday, as per the ’usual’ alternate weekend arrangements, then returning to the care of the other parent for the balance of the week, including that parent’s usual weekend arrangements.

How can I plan for the Easter school holidays?

The Easter school holidays are usually (but not always) a two-week break and can present additional difficulties if the bank holidays are not always in the middle of the fortnight break. Given it includes two bank holidays, the Easter weekend covers a four-day period, which may make it easier for the children to share the long weekend equally between parents.

How can we share the enjoyment of special occasions with our children?

For divorced or separated parents, it would normally be expected that children spend Mother’s Day with their mother and similarly Father’s Day with their father, regardless of whose weekend these days fall upon. This could be organised on the basis that reciprocal arrangements would be provided for the other parent.

Birthdays can be often more difficult. If you or your children’s birthdays fall during term time, there is less time available to be shared or, if they fall during holidays, the children may be either away or in the care of the other parent.

In the case of your children’s birthdays, a court would normally expect there to be some form of contact between the child and both parents, ideally direct if possible. If this is not possible, a video call or similar arrangement with the option of additional contact added on either at the previous weekend’s contact or the next scheduled time with the other parent.

It can often take a great deal of time and patience to arrive at agreed arrangements but, if you can achieve it, it will obviously be of significant benefit every year, not only to the children, but to both you and your ex-partner.

Louise Daniel has over 25 years’ experience advising clients on separation, divorce, financial and children’s cases. Should you wish to seek advice regarding holiday arrangements or any other family-related matter, please call Louise on 01706 213356 or by emailing your contact details to louise.daniel@whnsolicitors.co.uk.