By Vanessa Balnaves, Johnston Withers, Lawyers, Adelaide

For parents who have separated, the holidays can be a challenging period. Being separated can increase tensions as you juggle a range of family relationships and expectations over the school holidays and during Christmas.

You may want to spend Christmas with your child. The child’s other parent and perhaps extended family members, will probably want the same thing. If the adults in a family are in dispute over these arrangements, it is likely that children will be affected and this can cause a great deal of distress to them.

Focus on the child

During the summer school holidays the time children spend with each parent will also often be changed.

It is important that parents and other family members remain child focussed when approaching these issues. Being child focussed essentially means that you are able to put the needs of the child before your own. This time of the year can put pressure on everyone, but there are a few simple things you can do which might help to avoid conflict and protect your children from the adult issues going on around them:

  • Don’t argue in front of the children or where they can hear arguments occurring;
  • Don’t let other people argue about your relationship breakdown or the arrangements for the children;
  • If you are unable to spend time with your children on Christmas Day, consider having a “second” Christmas celebration.
  • Be flexible and consider the impact your attitude and behaviour may be having on your child’s ability to enjoy this time of the year with family members.

The better the communication between you and the other parent of your child, the more likely it is that you will have a positive co-parenting relationship for many years and your child will have the best opportunity to adjust to the significant change in their lives following the breakdown of your relationship.

Having clear written arrangements in place will generally make it easier for parents to communicate with each other and to plan their holiday activities, Christmas celebrations and special occasions.

Written agreements can be formalised by making a Parenting Plan or an Order of the Court.

A Parenting plan or Court Order will generally set out with some detail arrangements for special occasions such as Christmas, Birthdays, and School Holiday periods.

If you need to make changes to those arrangements, you should get advice from a lawyer as to the best way to do so. For example, there are a range of penalties for failing to comply with Court Orders, which can have serious implications.

Travelling

Parents may want to take children on interstate or overseas holidays during the end of year break. That may require changes to the previously agreed care arrangements. Discussion about such travel and obtaining or renewing children’s passports is best done well in advance. If you cannot reach agreement about these issues, you may need to make an Application to the Courts permitting overseas travel or the issuing of passports.

Mediation

Mediation through Family Dispute Resolution services can be of assistance to people who find it difficult to communicate with each other following the end of their relationship. Sometimes people need to attend at Mediation only for single issues, such as overseas travel arrangements. It is a general requirement that people attend at Mediation before they commence proceedings in the Family Courts about children’s matters. In urgent circumstances, the Courts will permit applications without the need to attend at Mediation first. You should obtain legal advice as to what might be considered urgent circumstances.

Generally children thrive when they have a routine which involves minimal disruptions for them and provides them a sense of security.  Knowing what to expect during the holidays can make that period a better experience for children, parents and extended family members.

If you would like to speak with experienced Family Lawyers about children’s arrangements for you and your family, or other issues around a separation or divorce, feel free to contact your local MSI contact.

Johnston Withers Family Lawyers have experience in creating Parenting Plans and Consent Orders as well as negotiating arrangements. They are also able to represent you in the Family Courts should that be necessary.

Contact the author directly by email or by telephone.

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