Legal Aid Alberta family lawyer Meghan Hanson advises parents to try to resolve holiday co-parenting issues out of court and to pause and put the best interests of their children first.
For families in which parents are living apart, the issues of child visitation can become challenging, especially during the holidays. According to Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer Meghan Hanson, family courts in Alberta deal almost exclusively with co-parenting, child access and visitation issues at this time of year.
Her advice for parents arguing about co-parenting kids over the holidays is simple: Parents should do everything they can to resolve any child access or child custody disagreements out of family court. This way, she notes, you still have some control of the final decision. By going to family court, you hand decision-making power on who gets the kids over the holidays to to a judge.
Second – and importantly – she advises parents to pause and put the best interests of their children first. Kids will not remember how many hours they spent with one parent or another, but they will remember how they felt and what they did.
Transcript of the program:
Mike Sobel: It’s at this time of year that families come together and for many people, that means that in addition to the regular seasonal stress, there are child custody or child visitation challenges. With us today to talk about how these challenges can be addressed is Legal Aid Alberta family lawyer Meghan Hanson. Good morning, Meghan. Thanks for coming on today.
Meghan Hanson: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Let’s start off by asking you: do the courts get busier than usual with these kinds of issues, especially at this time of year?
Meghan: Yes at this time of year we’ll see for probably the next three weeks, until the courts close at the end of December, we are going to have most of the matters in Family Court are going to be child custody, child visitation issues over the holidays.
Mike: So those are the most common issues? Are they considered relatively simple from your perspective?
Meghan: It’s hard to say that any family matters are relatively simple but at Legal Aid we deal with clients who have a variety of issues, some of whom many have mental health issues, addictions issues – they may not even have their children in their care. So, particularly for those clients, trying to get any time with their children over the holidays can be difficult. We’re also dealing with parents who, maybe this is the first Christmas that they’ve been separated and are trying to figure this out for the first time or we have parents who may have a plan in place but they are planning to travel to visit family and are encountering resistance from the other parent. We encourage parents regardless of the situation to try to resolve the matter outside of the court. The courts are very busy at this time of year and it’s a blunt instrument so we really try to encourage parents to find other means or resolving their issues.
Mike: When we talk about these other means, I understand the courts are really busy and it is time consuming, pretty complicated. What are the options to going to court, Meghan?
Meghan: So, the big ones are mediation and arbitration and those can be done with lawyers or without lawyers. Some services are available at no cost to parties or with some cost. The benefit to those kinds of activities and resources is that the parties really have the ability to shape the outcome better than they could at court. When you go to court you are giving a complete stranger decision-making power over your family and your children, so you may not end up with the result that works really well for your family and so if you can try some of those other resources, you may get a result that works best for your family.
Mike: What is the one most important thing people can do to reach an agreement they can both live with amicably?
Meghan: the most important thing is to think about your kids. Parents will try to think about what is fair for the parents: “I want this amount of time so if you get that amount of time I want this amount of time.” When it comes down to it children are not going to remember which date on a calendar they spent with their parents, they are not going to remember how many hours it was; what they’re going to remember is what they did with the parents and the activities and the special memories that their parents make. So that’s what we really encourage parents to focus on, is how do you make that time, whatever that time looks like, the best that it can be for your children?
Mike: You bring up a good point Meghan because what it all boils down to is what’s best for the children and quite often we think of ourselves which, of course, we play a very important role about the time spent with the children and where we plan to go with them and what we’re doing with them but what it all boils down to is the kids are the ones who remember these things – they have memories, and those are the ones who will have – even if it means sacrificing certain things at our level.
Meghan: Yes, absolutely. It’s about putting your kids first. If you do end up in court, that is what the courts will be doing, is looking at what is best for your kids. So if you can try to put your own self-interest on the back burner and think about your kids, that is going to give you the best Christmas.
Mike: Thank you so much, Meghan, for sharing that advice with us this morning.
Meghan: Thanks for having me.
Mike: Legal Aid Alberta specializes in family law, child welfare, domestic violence, immigration, and youth and adult criminal defence. If you do have a question for a lawyer, send it to [email protected]