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How to navigate the Christmas period as separated parents

How to navigate the Christmas period as separated parents

If you are separated from the other parent of your children it can be difficult to know how to navigate the Christmas period and school holidays. Trying to devise a plan can be stressful even if you are amicable with your ex. So where is the best place to start negotiating and why is it so important to get your plan started as early as possible?

Developing the plan

It is a good idea to have your Christmas plans sorted as far ahead as possible so that all parties understand what they will be doing during the busy festive season and to relieve any of the stress associated with the pointy end of the year.

Start by working out who will have the children and on what dates and be transparent with the other person about where the children will be at those times.

It is important to have these major points settled as soon as possible because, in a worst-case scenario, Orders may need to be sought from the Courts.  There are deadlines for filing non-urgent applications if you are wanting your Application to be considered by a Court before Christmas.  

Tips for negotiating

Christmas Day can be the most exciting time of a child’s whole year. It is crucial that parents agree to focus on their children’s happiness and plan their day accordingly. You should always consider the impacts of both parents seeing the children on Christmas Day. In some cases, the excitement can wear off partway through the long day, which means the child will not have the same experience they had with the first parent, not to mention the travelling and handover time that cuts into what should be an otherwise magical day. There is no reason why Christmas Day cannot be replicated a day or two later. You may consider relinquishing the 25th of December if it is going to impede your child’s overall happiness and time with their other parent.

If the other parent has particular traditions that they observe on Christmas Day and you do not, try to be accommodating to allow your children to participate in those traditions. By being flexible you may be able to leverage your generosity for another point in the year, such as the children’s birthdays, when you can request flexibility in your favour.

In the same vein, you may like to suggest having the children on alternate years. This is a simple, fair, and usually effective way of being able to spend full and meaningful time on Christmas with your children every second year.

What to do once you’ve reached an agreement

If you have been able to reach an agreement about where your children will spend Christmas you should feel very proud. The best way to finalise the plan is to confirm the dates with each other in writing and ensure that the handover time, date, and place is clear and confirmed between both parties.

Provide the other parent with details about where the children will be and how to contact them. Be as respectful as possible and if you are the parent who has the children on Christmas Day, allow them to phone or video call the other parent to wish them a happy Christmas.

It is also a good idea to discuss any gifts that the children may receive to avoid doubling up.

If you have reached an agreement about the long-term arrangements for the care of your children, including on special occasions each year, you may consider formalising that agreement by applying for consent orders.  Unless there are orders in place, your agreement is not binding.

If you cannot come to an agreement

It is natural for both parents to want to share Christmas with their children, so if you truly cannot agree on an arrangement about who will spend which days with each parent it may be necessary to seek assistance from a neutral, third-party mediator. A mediator can help you to develop a parenting plan, even if it is only for the upcoming holiday period. A parenting plan can help set out a fair and temporary arrangement to ensure the festive season is as enjoyable as possible for your children.

Alternatively, you may need to seek Orders from a Court. As mentioned earlier, however, the deadline for making an application typically falls in November, which does not help those who have failed to begin planning many months prior.

If you are struggling to reach an agreement about parenting arrangements with your ex, our experienced family lawyers can help you through the process and suggest the least acrimonious ways to settle your differences. Contact us on (07) 4052 0700.

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