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The first holiday season for parents after separation is a unique period of time. It requires careful planning by both parents to ensure everyone, especially the children are able to enjoy themselves and not be worn down by conflict or stress. Importantly, the logistics and setting of plans for Summer holidays and Christmas arrangements for separated parents need to be established now.
At that time of year, every year, we see significant issues arise that lead to parents withholding children, despite previously agreed upon arrangements. Even if your relationship with your ex is usually amicable, the holiday period including Christmas, travel and other celebrations is a time when emotions are high and tension can escalate.
Negotiating and finalising how you will share the care of your children for the holiday period needs to be actioned now, well before mid November. Mid November is when the Court closes off applications for any family law related matters, of which there is typically an influx, so they can manage those matters before the Court closes for the year.
Any parenting arrangements that have not been applied for through the Court are not legally binding. So, if you have any issues relating to withholding of children or someone wanting to change a previously agreed to schedule, you will need to speak to a family lawyer early to ensure your application is complete and correct, before that cut off date. If not, then you may need to wait until they reopen in the New Year.
If this is your first holiday season as separated parents, there is much to consider. Children will be on a break from their usual school or care routine, there are special celebrations, businesses close and it is common that travel is in the mix as well. Any plans that you have had in place for children that you’ve followed, will likely need to be different for this unique period.
Even if everything has been operating smoothly so far, giving thought to how plans will be impacted by the unique elements of the festive season will mean you can identify how arrangements will need to change to work for both you and your children.
We have worked with thousands of families and seen a wide variety of holiday arrangements. Below we will share with you:
- The common ways conflict arises
- When a Court Order might be wise
- Examples of arrangements for the holidays and Christmas after separation
School Holiday & Christmas Arrangements For Separated Parents: Considerations To Minimise Conflict
One reason the holiday season can be so challenging is because we all have our own idea about holiday plans. We want to have certain celebrations unfold the way we imagine they will, we want to take advantage of holiday time to make special memories. When it starts to feel like your vision may not be possible, emotions can boil over and conflicts arise.
There is no simple way to put these desires aside. The best thing you can do is to head into the holiday period itself as prepared as you can be. It starts with early conversations.
Give Yourself As Much Time As Possible
At the date of publishing this article, it is October. You need to be having these conversations now. By allowing yourself enough time to discuss plans and have some time to think and come back to discuss, you are more likely to arrive at a plan that both of you are happy with.
The Courts close over the holidays and stop taking applications to hear matters relating to the shared care of children even earlier. While you might not anticipate needing the assistance of the Court, as most parents don’t, it is easy to miss this window to make your arrangements legally binding by thinking you will talk about issues and details later, waiting for the right moment.
Whether you want to make your plans legally binding or not, allowing time for conversations to occur without the stress of time limits is beneficial.
Having only a loose arrangement in place heading into the holiday season can leave you vulnerable. Every year we see children being withheld from the other parent due to emotions running high and people desperately wanting to be with their child on certain days. If this happens to you, there can be very little that can be done until the Courts reopen in the new year. This is a terribly long time for any parent to have to wait. Additionally, the costs of taking matters to the Courts, of meeting with lawyers over the break can be astronomical. The time investment early on will be well worth it for you and your children.
Consider A Range Of Options
You may have family traditions that will look different this year. Maybe you regularly use the end of year holidays to travel while your children have an extended period away from school. Perhaps you attend church on Christmas Eve with your entire extended family. These traditions and holidays may not be possible when two families are sharing children over the break.
However you celebrate in your family, the intention of the holiday won’t be lost, just some details changed. If you want to take time to travel, consider some date options rather than putting forward just one date range. If your ex partner also wants to travel with the children, it isn’t ideal to have this happen back to back (for the children’s sake), and is obviously impossible to happen on the same days.
If Christmas is a special day for you, then consider how to share this while also ensuring the children are able to enjoy the day. This might seem obvious, of course you want the children to have a special day. However, it can be easy to overlook factors that can impact children like travel time between families, arriving home from a big trip on Christmas Eve and other arrangements that could leave the children exhausted by travel and logistics.
Keep Communication Lines As Open As Possible
Throughout the negotiation and planning period, try to be as open and honest as you can about how your plans are coming along and any changes to how you’re feeling about the arrangements. If you are feeling pressure to agree to something you have no intention of carrying through with, it is always best to be honest.
Consider also communicating plans via email or text message. This could even be that a summary is sent at the conclusion of face to face conversations. This gives both people something to refer back to and can minimise confusion.
Might You Benefit From Court Orders?
Consent Orders are a legally binding document, where both parents have determined the arrangements and agree to keep to the terms detailed within it. It is often referred to as a Parenting Agreement or Parenting Orders. There are a number of reasons why you might consider Consent Orders to be right for your situation.
Firstly, Consent Orders can give you peace of mind over the holiday season. It will provide greater certainty that agreements made ahead of time will be adhered to. If you make plans that cross years, for example an alternating Christmas Day, Orders can give you the confidence that arrangements will be followed in the coming years as well.
Secondly, if a person breaches plans that have not been made Consent Orders, there is no way for the Courts to enforce the agreed upon plan. Alternatively, if Orders are breached, it is possible to lodge a Contravention Application with the Court. In this situation, if there are no Orders in place, then you can only apply to file for a Recovery Order. This is not a quick or cheap process, but it may be the best option if children are withheld over the Christmas period.
Some people can feel that contacting a lawyer for advice or requesting that your ex consider getting arrangements formalised (by way of Orders) for the holiday period, will escalate tension or damage a previously amicable relationship. This is far from the truth.
We see that putting Orders in place can actually help to preserve positive relationships. It takes much of the risk out of your plans by removing uncertainty and ensuring both parents will adhere to the arrangement. This can minimise conflict and remove the need for disagreements and negotiations around plans at the last minute when emotions will be high.
When we meet with people to help them formalise the arrangements, we review their terms and help them firm up their plans, by highlighting some considerations they may not have thought of, that helps reduce the risk of otherwise unforeseen issues arising.
How Do Separated Parents Do Christmas?
If you will be experiencing your first Christmas/holiday season since separation, it can be helpful to learn how other families in a similar position manage this time of year. Being prepared by having options and being flexible when communicating about your arrangements over this period can really help to keep communication open and peaceful.
Here are some types of arrangements that we have seen work well for co parents:
Year On,Year Off
This can be a good solution, particularly if you and your ex live a considerable distance apart. Having your children travel long distances on Christmas Day for example, in order to see both parents may be either difficult or impossible.
With a year on, year off arrangement, one parent may have the child/ren for a week or several weeks or just a day at Christmas and the other parent will get the same the following year.
If your child is with you on Christmas Day you can celebrate as you like on the day. If you are the parent who does not get the child/ren that year, many people choose to celebrate Christmas with the child another day. You can have Santa visit your child twice, arrange to be in contact with them on the phone on Christmas Day and create new meaningful traditions around the holidays that don’t have to be date specific.
For this arrangement, you and your ex would each have part of the day with the child/ren. Some families work it so that one parent has them Christmas Eve and Christmas morning while the other has them Christmas lunch and Boxing Day.
This sort of arrangement can appeal from the perspective that neither parent misses out on experiencing the date of Christmas with their children. It can be a particularly good solution if one family has a tradition on Christmas Eve for example, while the other parent might be happy to have their child at Christmas lunch with the extended family.
This arrangement does not work so well if parents live far apart as it means the children will be travelling, rather than spending time enjoying the day. It can also be a challenging arrangement if there is a lot of conflict in the relationship. Having grandparents support pick ups or drop offs can help in this scenario but should be carefully considered.
Locking Down School Holiday & Christmas Arrangements for Separated Parents
What is important is that you are comfortable with the arrangements being made. Early planning will give you the best chance at coming to an agreement that you, your co-parent and your children, can feel comfortable with.
While it is most helpful to run your plans past a family lawyer, having these conversations exclusively between yourself and your ex, is often best. If you do not have safe or positive communications with your ex, where there is a high level of conflict, having a lawyer present can ensure conversation remains on topic and that you are able to get a fair outcome.
We recommend getting advice from a family lawyer early in the process, no matter how you proceed. To have someone with experience look over what has been agreed to can prevent potential future issues that can arise and ensure the wording of any arrangements accurately reflects the intention of the agreement.
Don’t leave the planning of time with your children for your first holiday season and Christmas after separation to the last minute. Get started now and give yourself the time needed to ensure you are able to make arrangements that work best for yourself and your children.
Have you recently separated or are you considering separation?
Do you have concerns or questions that relate to how to get a divorce in Australia?
We can help you wherever you are based in Sydney. We have three office locations – Penrith, Norwest & Sydney CBD – as well as phone and online consultations if preferred. Reach out to our team on 02 47 222 050.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.