Christmas can be a busy time of year in the family law world. Many separated parents find it difficult to agree on what arrangements are best for their children, particularly over the holidays. The COVID19 pandemic has created even more stress for parents and children and can make holidays and travel particularly difficult. It can be challenging for parents to face their first holiday after a separation, and even harder for the children.
Yes, you can go to Court to have a Judge decide what Orders will apply in your situation (if you need to do this, you need to do it well before November/December for the Court to have enough time to hear your matter), but usually arrangements agreed between the parents are more likely to work long term and suit the particular circumstances of your family.
Holidays don’t have to be a battlefield. Here are some examples of different arrangements that might work for your family:
Children with one parent from Christmas Eve until Christmas morning, and with the other parent from Christmas morning until Boxing Day.
This arrangement tends to work for families who live close to each other. It has the benefit of the children spending time with both parents on Christmas Day. Usually, this arrangement alternates each year. Some parents place importance on waking up with the children on Christmas morning, while others focus on Christmas Eve, or Christmas lunch. The children get the benefit of enjoying time with both parents and their families. For some families, one parent’s tradition is to celebrate at Christmas Eve while the other tends to celebrate at Christmas lunch. For those families, they might choose to keep the same arrangements every year.
Children with one parent for the whole week in which Christmas falls, and with the other parent the week before or week after.
This arrangement may be more suitable if the parents do not live close to each other or if they tend to travel during the Christmas school holiday period. The advantage is that the children do not have to travel on Christmas Day and face a potentially uncomfortable handover between the parents. Again, usually this arrangement is one that would alternate each year so that the children get a chance to have Christmas Day with each parent. Some parents (and of course the children) can find this arrangement particularly hard as they don’t get any time of Christmas Day.
One of my clients had a great idea for how to explain this new arrangement to his children. He asked Santa to write a letter to his children explaining how lucky they were to have two homes and two Christmases and telling them that Santa has scheduled a special delivery of some more of their presents on their second Christmas. It made the experience exciting and special for the kids, rather than focusing on missing out on seeing the other parent on Christmas Day.
Children with one parent at Christmas, but spending a few hours during the day with the other parent
This arrangement might work if you have very young children. In some cases, experts recommend that very young children do not spend long periods of time (and/or overnight time) away from their primary carer. In most cases, as the children grow older, they will spend increasing time with the other parent, and this includes at Christmas.
Children spending the whole of the Christmas holidays with one parent
This arrangement, although less common, might occur where the parents live a significant distance apart and the children only get to spend school holiday time one parent. For the parent not seeing the children in the holidays, they might have an early Christmas with the children before the holidays. This arrangement may also apply due to special circumstances, such as COVID19 and travel restrictions. The parent not seeing the children could organise for the other parent to give their gifts to the children on Christmas Day in their absence, and then speak to the children on the phone or via video call.
No special arrangement for Christmas
For some families, Christmas Day is not something they want to make special arrangements for, and instead they just stick to their existing holiday arrangements (which might be half holidays with each parent, alternating weeks, majority with one parent, etc). This suits families who are not particularly concerned with Christmas as a tradition (or are happy to celebrate it on another day) families who have non-Christian beliefs/religion, parents who don’t want to have multiple handovers during the holidays or parents who live a significant distance apart.
What arrangement is the best?
What works for one family, might not necessarily work for another. The best arrangement for your family is one that you and your ex agree is works best for your children. The above is just a small sample of different arrangements that other parents have adopted.
Whatever you decide, don’t leave it to the last minute and don’t assume you know what is happening during the holidays. Make sure you talk to the other parent early, so that you are both on the same page and have an agreed plan for Christmas and the holidays and have contingency plans to take account of our new COVID19 world and challenges.
If you are unsure, talk to an experienced Family Lawyer who can provide advice specific to your circumstances.
Article By: Kasey Fox
Kasey began her family law career with us back in 2004 and was made a Director in 2013. Originally from Alice Springs, Kasey has made Canberra her home more than 17 years. She is pragmatic, thorough, passionate about her work and very protective of her clients. When necessary, Kasey is a fierce litigator, but she also is an advocate for Collaborative Law and tries to reach negotiated outcomes whenever possible.