Family Law, Christmas and Kids: a jolly old time or a rotten turkey?

How to navigate your way through co-parenting during the holiday season

Christmas arrangements

Given 2020 has been a stressful and challenging year, we’re all looking for a fresh start come 2021! After what seems like forever, Melbourne is thankfully out of lockdown, however we’ve immediately run into the Christmas and the holiday season. In normal years it can be a stressful time but this year, for many families especially for those parents who are separated and don’t enjoy settled children’s arrangements, it can be even harder.

How parents divide their children’s time between them during this time of year is often the cause for conflict, with strong feelings on both sides given the emotional pull of Christmas (especially for kids), the normal stresses and strains of inter- family relationships and the obvious fact children can’t be in two places at once.  Unfortunately, conflict between separated parents is the single biggest risk factor against a child’s future development.

There are however steps that can be taken to minimise conflict and ensure that children have an enjoyable Christmas with both parents and their extended families.

According to the research, many children (especially younger ones) are happy to go along with any arrangement made for them as long as this is encouraged and supported by both parents. Things such as who has the children first thing Christmas morning may seem like a big issue at the time but, in the grand scheme of thing, actually has little meaning in the overall long term health of a child-parent relationship.  The bigger issue is ensuring that children have a happy and safe Christmas and holiday time that is memorable and enjoyable for them without feeling like they are in the middle of a tug of war.

Practical tips

Some practical tips to take into account when dealing with the Christmas holidays are:

  • Where each parent will spend Christmas Day and how this factors into the children’s travelling time;
  • Any special arrangements made, such as family members attending who haven’t seen the children in a long time or other guests who are important to the children;
  • Special customs families may have, such as celebrating or opening presents on Christmas Eve, or having a picnic on Boxing Day;
  • The possibility of having Christmas celebrations on Boxing Day as well, so each household has a day of Christmas spoiling the children that little bit more;
  • Be sure to discuss any holiday plans such as trips away or interstate early with the other parent so that if any changes can be done fairly with greater chance of an agreement;
  • Think of the other parent and put yourself in their shoes – if you were proposing what they are would you think it was reasonable?
  • Put the children first! The most important consideration is the children’s safety, wellbeing and happiness.  Don’t get caught up in arguing for the sake of it, step back and think of the big picture – what is going to be best for the children?;
  • Although often overlooked by parents, it is the quality of the time they spend with children that usually matters the most, not the mere quantity.

What happens if it goes wrong?

Unfortunately there are instances where one parent may not comply with court orders or what is agreed to and in some cases not return the children when they are meant to under an agreement or court orders. In these situations it is best to remain calm and take practical steps to remedy the situation in a way as to not cause distress to the children.

Here are some steps a parent take:

  • Call the other parent, or if they can’t get through, call a third party who may know where they are or who assist them to speak to the parent;
  • If and when they can speak to the other parent, attempt to calmly negotiate the situation for the return of the children. There may be a reasonable explanation that isn’t as sinister as might seem at first.
  • If sufficiently serious, contact a local police station to conduct a welfare check.  The police can in some instances assist in speaking with the other parent and resolving the situation;
  • In exceptional circumstances, seek a recovery order from the Court.  Before doing this we strongly recommend contacting our office for legal advice.

If you would like any advice regarding parenting arrangements please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Myers, Principal Solicitor and Elisa Berry, Senior Associate of our Family Law Team.