Seeking Contact with your Child at Christmas

07 December 2023

'Tis the season for twinkling lights, family gatherings and that undeniable feeling of togetherness. But the Christmas holidays can leave many who are navigating a separation uncertain as to when they will see their children over the festive period.

It is important that those who find themselves living apart from their children are aware of their rights when it comes to having contact and enjoying a relationship with them.   Here are some commonly asked questions about having contact with your children:-

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents can agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families, contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.  Organisations such as Family Mediation NI can assist those who are able to mediate. Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings in Northern Ireland are initially dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court, the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that if safe and appropriate, a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Family Courts look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and feelings of the child involved are often considered as an important factor for the Court to consider and a Court Children’s Officer (a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the child to find out what these are.

How much weight is given to a child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example, the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Orders that can be made by the Family Courts which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.  Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including :-

  • Indirect contact – for example, the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

If there is a safeguarding concern about a non-resident parent then the Court can order that contact has to be supervised by a relative or social worker or monitored in a Contact Centre.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Contact Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is preferable, as Contact Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties.

However, where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will hear evidence from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which it decides is in the best interests of the child.

It is never advisable to leave negotiating Christmas contact arrangements with your estranged spouse or partner to the last minute – if last minute arrangements cannot be agreed, then a non-resident parent may find themselves ‘out of time’ to be able to access the Courts for the purposes of seeking contact over Christmas.   It is therefore important to speak to a solicitor for advice as early as possible to allow the best opportunity for arrangements to be made.

For further advice on applying for contact, please contact Emma Stratton on or call us on 028 9024 3901 to arrange a free initial consultation.