There are lots of potential arrangements for separated parents when it comes to splitting school holidays and high days such as religious days, bank holidays, teacher training days and birthdays. Here are some of the options.
As indicated in a few of the articles in this series (listed at the end of this article), any Court determination in regards to arrangements for school holidays takes into account the specific facts of that individual case, and looks purely at what is in the children’s best interest.
For example, parents who live close together can often put into place arrangements which would simply not be achievable (or in the child’s best interest) if they lived a considerable distance apart. Below is a number of arrangements that have been put into place, which have worked for families or may be endorsed by a Court.
But, as stated, such arrangements are very much fact specific in terms of availability, distance and other circumstances.
Tips for splitting school holidays between parents
The three primary half-term arrangements which enables an equal sharing are:
Alternate half terms: in the first year, one parent has two of the half terms while the other has one, and then this is reversed in the following year.
Specific half terms: due to work circumstances, the parents may agree (for example) that one of the half terms will always be spent with one parent, the second with the other and the third divided. I have specifically seen this kind of arrangement with parents who work in the hospitality or tourist industry, as one of the winter half terms was of far more benefit than the summer half term.
An equal division of the half term. In the event that one of the parents has the children every other weekend, this could mean that the weekend that would normally be spent with that parent is then extended, so that it falls at the beginning of the half term. The handover would then take place on (for example) the Wednesday at midday – exactly half – or commence at that time to incorporate the usual weekend at the end of the half-term period.
I have seen arrangements where the Easter holiday is divided in half, with the children spending a week with each of the parents as the defined holiday period. Where the Easter holiday is longer than the equivalent of two weeks or 14 days, it can be split equally – meaning slightly longer than a week with each parent.
A potential difficulty that arises here is deciding on how the Easter bank holidays are dealt with, particularly in circumstances where there are two working parents. The advantage is that the Easter weekend has two bank holidays attached, providing a four-day period, but the difficulty is that it can be hard to incorporate specific wording in relation to such a weekend, as the Easter weekend frequently does not always fall predominantly in the beginning middle or end of the school Easter holiday period. Consequently, some negotiation may be required to establish how the Easter holiday would be split.
The way that the summer holiday is split is, again, subject to the parties circumstances and the best interests of the child involved.
It is often split on a week on, week off basis, so that the children spend a week with each parent alternately. Or, more often, it assumes that the school holiday is six weeks long and splits it so that there is a week with each parent and then a separate period of two weeks with each parent. On the occasion where the holiday is less or more than six weeks, the difference needs to be accounted for.
Children’s and parents’ birthdays
There is often an understandable desire by a parent to be able to spend time with their children on the child’s birthday or on the parent’s birthday.
This may be something that is feasible but can also sometimes cause considerable difficulty and disruption for the child.
If, for example, the birthday falls during term time or on a school day, it can be difficult to identify a period of time where a child should be made available to the other parent in the limited period from completion of school to bedtime without significantly disrupting the following school day. The same applies to the parent’s birthday.
As difficult as it may be, it may well be better that there be provision for some form of contact by telephone or video call. But, as is often the case with school aged children, each parent on an alternate weekend basis would have the facility of the weekend before or after the birthday to plan and engage in any specific celebration party etc.
Even if the birthdays fall during school holidays, this can also cause an issue if the arrangements for the holidays would (for example) always mean that the child’s birthday would fall during a period of time when it is expected that the child will be with one parent during the holiday period. Consequently, some careful thought and consideration should always be given to what arrangement should be put in place for such birthdays, taking into account what actually is in the child’s best interest.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
There is often a natural desire for a parent to have their children with them on Mother’s day or Father’s day. If this is something of significance or importance to the parent, it is not unusual to see arrangements either being agreed or incorporated into a Court Order which identifies that the children will spend time with those parents on those specific days.
Other issues for consideration
Here are some other disputes which I have encountered, along with the general advice which I have provided:
When does a holiday start?
I have seen disputes between parents over the division of holiday time as to when the holiday itself started. This arises in circumstances where the formal school holiday may be specified as commencing on a certain date but, due to teacher training days and bank holidays etc, the children actually do not attend school the day before or the day after the formal holiday comes to a conclusion.
Another argument I have come across concerns whether or not the school holiday starts on the day they break up (say, the Friday) or on the first day of the holiday (say, the Saturday). There are no specific right or wrong arrangements in this regard, other than to confirm that they should be given consideration to. Each parent should be clear about how these matters will be dealt with.
What does a week or two weeks mean?
I have unfortunately seen arguments as to whether a week includes seven days or nights, or seven days but only six nights.
In general terms, whilst this has been argued, it would be difficult to argue before a Court that a week does not include a seven-night period. Consequently, generally arrangements confirming holidays should identify that the day and time they commence is the same day and time that they conclude – i.e. if a week commences on a Friday at midday, it would conclude on the next Friday at midday.
Teacher training days and bank holidays that fall during term time
A number of these days often get incorporated within school holidays.
For example, the May day bank holidays may continue into half term which would deal with this, if not, consideration should be given (and agreement reached) as to how these will be dealt with. If, for example, during term time the arrangement is to collect the children from school on a Friday – and deliver to school on Monday – what happens in the event that either (due to a teacher training day or bank holiday) they don’t go to school on the Friday, or aren’t back until the Tuesday?
Again, there is no specific right or wrong arrangement, but early planning and agreement will prevent a dispute from arising.
If those days happen to fall on a particular parent’s weekend, they may have the advantage of that particular day. For example, if contact was to run from picking up from school on Friday, to dropping off on Monday morning, but in this scenario they do not go to school on Monday, they could be delivered to school on the Tuesday. Alternatively, agreement might be recorded that, they could be returned to the other parent at a specified time on Monday, such as 9am or the holiday day could also be split for a midday return.
Splitting the school holiday
In the event that these arrangements have to be specified within a Court Order, it is normal to see some provision which would identify a date by which the arrangements and the dates for the holidays have to be agreed. For example, by the end of the preceding school holiday or half term.
Difficulty is often experienced where parents refuse to engage in proper negotiations to identify specific dates. If faced with such circumstance, I would normally advise a parent to engage as early as possible with the un-cooperative parent, providing them with the opportunity to indicate dates that they would prefer. Then, follow this up with a further request and then another, notifying that unless engagement is received then the holiday dates will be booked by the other parent.
If that happens, arrangements for the un-cooperative parent will simply have to tie in with the arrangements already put into place.
Impact of holidays upon regular term time and weekends
In general terms, where specific arrangements have been put into place for school holidays, the term time arrangements will be suspended so as to provide both parents with the same levels of holiday free from the requirements of having to make their children available for contact with the other.
On occasion, issues do arise regarding when the next weekend for the other parent is due, if that arises at the end of the school holiday. For example, do you reset the arrangement or simply carry on as if the holidays had not interfered with it?
Again, there is no specific requirement for either circumstance. If one parent has the final week of the school holiday and would then normally be due to have the next weekend, you could reset the alternate weekend so the children spend time with the other parent. The advantage of this is that the arrangements can be more evenly split. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to be clear in the long term as to what the formal arrangements will be and this may provide less certainty.
The alternative would be to continue to calculate the normal weekends through the school holidays and they just resume on the next due date, whatever that might be, once the school holiday is completed.
The disadvantage of this option is that it may lead to circumstances where one parent has two weekends in a row as a result of the holiday arrangements. The advantage is that it’s possible to calculate alternate weekend arrangements fully into the future, and have certainty and clarity going forwards. This would be irrespective of any arrangements that may change due to the school holidays.
Christmas (and/or other significant religious holidays) can cause some of the most complicated and emotional disputes between parents. For that reason, I have omitted it from this article. You can read about Christmas holidays here.
This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.
If you would like to discuss the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.