This Friday sees the start of the Christmas school holidays for most children. Christmas is an exciting and special time of the year – the presents, the lights, the carols, however it can be a stressful time, especially for separated parents and children. Emotions tend to be heightened, there are lots of celebrations and events to manage and this can lead to difficult communication and disagreements between parents.
So what should you know when making decisions and travel plans over the Christmas school holiday period?
Reach an Agreement
There is no ‘right’ way to divide the Christmas school holidays for your children. Compromise and reach an agreement that will ensure you and your children have certainty about how Christmas Day and the school holidays will be spent.
Common arrangements are to split the school holidays equally, and for Christmas Day to be alternated between parents each year. Yes it will be difficult to not spend time with your children on Christmas Day, especially if this is your first Christmas separated. However alternating the day ensures that your children experience Christmas Day celebrations with both parents and families despite their parents being separated.
Changeover on Christmas Day
While many parents choose to have changeover in the middle of Christmas Day, especially for younger children, this can be stressful for both parents and children.
The practicalities of changeover on Christmas Day mean that you cannot travel to see extended family for Christmas Day, it is impractical if you and the other parent do not live in close proximity, and parents cannot choose to enjoy their Christmas festivities with any alcohol drinks.
When deciding whether to split Christmas Day between parents, think about the overall practicalities of the day and decide whether you could compromise and whether it would be in the children’s best interest to alternate Christmas day between their parents instead.
Travelling overseas or interstate
With Christmas falling in Summer in Australia and during the longest school holiday period, we love to travel away for the school holidays. Ensure these plans have been made early and the other parent has been provided with sufficient notice of the travel. Remember that overseas travel is considered a ‘major long-term issue’ and the other parent’s consent is required to travel outside of Australia with your children. If you have Parenting Orders, ensure that you have complied with all of the timeframes required by those Orders.
Interstate travel that occurs during the time that has been agreed for the children to spend with you, does not require the same obligations to notify the other parent, unless your Parenting Orders require you to provide them notice. Despite this, we encourage parents to advise the other parent of any interstate travel during their time with you out of courtesy.
When travelling, ensure that the children have access to a device to telephone or videocall the other parent, especially on Christmas day.
Surviving Christmas Tips
Here are some tips for how to survive the Christmas school holidays for separated parents:
- The children’s best interests are paramount and come first so put the children first even when your emotions may be getting the better of you. One of the most effective ways to do this is to avoid conflict with the other parent as much as possible in the presence of the children, and do not discuss your frustrations about the other parent in front or with them.
- Avoid communicating with the other parent via the children. It is not a matter for your children to deal with the issue of who they spend time with and when. Do your absolute best to shelter the children from these discussions and let them enjoy Christmas and the school holidays.
- Be careful about how you communicate with the other parent. Sending frustrated and angry text messages and emails to the other parent might seem like a good idea at the time, but they may be relied upon during future negotiations and Court proceedings. Messages sent in the heat of the moment out of frustration are often not received well and rarely assisting your co-parenting relationship or negotiations with the other parent.
- The amount of time that the children spend with you does not determine how strong their relationship is with you. If you are having a dispute with the other parent about a few additional nights, remember that children value quality not quantity. Think about whether you can compromise on that and ensure the time the children spend with you is quality time.
- Get advice early and adduce any agreement to writing. With the assistance of experienced family lawyers, often parents are able to put in place holiday arrangements for their children without the necessity of going to Court and well in advance of the school holidays commencing.
The Court deadline for Applications regarding arrangements over the Christmas period closed the 11 November 2022. If you have missed this deadline, the above can assist you to survive the Christmas period and our office can assist in putting in place arrangements future school holiday periods.