“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” Or so the Christmas song goes.
But statistically, this is not always the case for families under stress. The period immediately preceding Christmas and post-Christmas often causes such stress that pre-existing problems are brought to the surface and relationships often end.
The desire for a fresh start in the New Year or just getting through “one more Christmas” often prompts parties to consult with Family Lawyers regarding separating before or after the holiday period.
If you have separated, it is very important that as parents, we shield our children from as much of the adult issues as we can. Children observe and take in much more than we give them credit for. They pick up on stress and conflict through observations of actions, moods, and direct conflict.
When it comes to children’s arrangements, the Court’s will always make an Order which it considers to be in the child’s best interests.
Whether this is sharing Christmas Day or alternating it between parents is entirely subject to the individual aspects of each case.
OMB Family Law’s gift to you is our “helpful holiday hints” – namely some things to consider in the lead up to the festive season and when you are discussing and hopefully agreeing on the arrangements for your child or children and other family law matters this holiday period:
- Christmas is for and about children, let them enjoy it, free from the worry of their parent’s conflict.
- Christmas can cause conflict and anxiety in even the happiest of households, so if there are conflicts in your relationship with the other parent then it is your responsibility to do all that you can to ensure that the children are not exposed to conflict or adult disputes;
- The arrangements for Christmas Day must be child focused, not parent focused. Your “need” as a parent to see your child or children on Christmas Day is secondary to the best interests of your children and in all reality, of little concern or interest to the Court. Christmas is only one day of the year and whilst it may be nice to be spending it as a family, life does not always work that way. Be the adult and be child focused.
- Try to communicate with each other about present(s) for the children to ensure that there is a consistent approach on type of present and there is no double up.
- If you can, make sure arrangements for the special days are resolved well before the holiday period, as your advisors and the Courts will close in the days leading up to Christmas. This enables the stress levels for all concerned to be managed as well as enabling plans with immediate and extended family to be made.
- The capacity to bring a matter before the Court prior to Christmas is quite difficult as there is, notoriously, a lot of families which need court intervention prior to the Christmas period. Bear that in mind when trying to resolve matters.
- If you cannot achieve a Court order prior to Christmas, then a Parenting Plan is the best option available to you. A parenting plan, whilst not a Court Order which carries differing levels of enforceability and consequences for breach, is still a written agreement which the Court will consider if needs be. As the old adage says, “anything is better than nothing”.
- Do not sweat the small stuff, pick your battles, rise above it – all of those colloquialisms apply best at Christmas. It is not the time to worry about someone being five minutes late to changeover or if the kids go on (and on and on) about a present from their other parent.
- Be generous and kind if you can. If you are in a better financial position then your spouse, do not put the squeeze on them financially (ever but definitely not at Christmas). They are the person you chose to have a family with and being difficult financially will only affect your children, in the long run.
- Plan for things going wrong. A dream Christmas would be perfect, but we don’t live in a perfect world and there are no perfect parents (sorry to say!). Small issues should be noted down and raised with your advisor in the new year. Big issues – significant breaches, family violence or risk factors from alcohol consumption – need to be addressed more urgently and if needs be, contact the Police to ensure your and the children’s safety is protected.
- Get advice early. Your family lawyer is a human too – they likely have family of their own and need time to rest and relax so that they are refreshed and available to you in the New Year. If a matter is urgent then, like us at OMB Family Law, they ought to be available to you via email, but otherwise decide to have your meetings well prior to their Christmas closure. Again, if personal safety is at risk, then call 000 without delay.
- Finally, remember what Christmas is truly about – love, family, friendship, and gratitude for being in the best country around. 2020 has posed many challenges for our day to day Aussie life. Take time this year (and every year) to truly remember the meaning of the holidays. It is not a time to focus on winning against your ex, who is getting the kids the best presents or having the best holiday. Kids just want their parents and deep down the competition is likely to just make them sad.
From the OMB Family to yours, may your holiday season bring you happiness (or at least as little conflict as possible), rest and relaxation.
Our office is open until 23 December 2020 for any family law issues that may arise prior to Christmas and is available for urgent issues over the holidays.