How to plan your holidays as separated parents and what to do if you can't agree

JUNE 23, 2023

POSTED BY: Victoria Toy

With the summer holidays fast approaching, a number of separated couples can find that they are struggling to navigate how best to share their children’s time during the long summer break from school.

We are often asked what families ‘usually do’. The answer is that each family needs to find a pattern which works best for them. Some families carry on with their usual term time arrangements and agree that, at some stage during the annual holiday calendar, they will take a week or two to travel with their children.

Other families suspend their term time schedule at the start of each holiday and break the holiday up into blocks of one or two weeks so the pattern is very different to their term time schedule.

A number of parents don’t realise that unless they have a ‘lives with’ order from the court, they need the other parent’s permission to take their children abroad. Most separating couples don’t have a ‘lives with’ order. This is because these orders are only required in circumstances where it has been necessary for the court to intervene in deciding arrangements for their children or where parents believe the structure and formality of an order is required, perhaps because one parent has moved away.

If you need the other parent’s consent to travel abroad, then it’s sensible to start having conversations about foreign travel in good time to agree how the holidays will be shared and to have discussions on where you intend to travel with the children.

Even if you don’t need the other parent’s consent to travel as you have a ‘lives with’ order, it’s still important to let the other parent know important information such as details of your flights or ferries, the address you will be staying at and an emergency contact number.

If an agreement on holidays or foreign travel cannot be agreed, the last resort is an application to the court. Before considering that option parents should contemplate how else they can come to an agreement to share the holidays by perhaps attending mediation together or arbitration (where a decision will be made by a private Judge and is enforceable in the same way as an order made by a Judge in the family court). Arbitration on a discrete issue like holidays can usually be arranged to take place very quickly; within a matter weeks, so it is a good option when parents need a decision quickly.

Sadly, some families find that their holiday arrangements become a constant source of conflict each year. If agreeing your holiday arrangements appears to be a recurring issue, a sensible option is to have a ‘default’ position. For example, you could agree that every year the children spend weeks 1 and 2 of the summer holidays with parent A, weeks 3 and 4 with parent B and so on. The same structure can be put in place for Easter or Christmas (with special days alternating each year) and the three half terms can alternate so each year the parents have a different half term to take advantage of any seasonal activities such as winter sports in the February half term.

When you have a default position, you can still try and agree a different arrangement if you think it will suit your family each year. However, you can have a cut off point for agreeing an alternate structure, so if you haven’t agreed the holiday arrangements three months before the start of the relevant holiday then the default position automatically applies and both parents will know when they will have their children and can plan their holidays accordingly.

There is no one size fits all arrangement for holidays, but you don’t want the lead up to your valuable holiday time with your children to be a source of anxiety, so it’s important to consider these arrangements early and speak with a lawyer or mediator if you need assistance in agreeing how to share your holidays.