The Split Family’s Guide to Celebrating the Christmas Holidays
It is that time of year when things can become a little tense as summer holiday, Christmas day and New Year plans for separated families are negotiated and implemented.
For most of us Christmas is a happy time, a time when families get together to swap presents and stories, share meals and homes and enjoy each other’s company.
But for some families with separated parents Christmas can be a time of sadness, disappointment and disagreement and often children are caught in the middle.
What can you, as separated parents, do to make Christmas magical for your children?
You can follow these handy tips to keep things civil and stress-free this Christmas.
Step 1. Get to know where you stand legally
There is no entitlement to an equal division of time for Christmas. In the Family Court system, each family is looked at on a case-by-case basis, with the Court considering the benefit for each child having a relationship with each parent and the nature of that relationship.
From a practical perspective, the best thing for both parents to do is to remain child-focused. This means try to consider what arrangements will place the best interests of the children ahead of your own interests or feelings.
If where your children spend Christmas is not clearly outlined in a parenting plan or parenting orders and you can’t agree on the times you can make an application for the Court to determine the matter. However, the Court requires you to attend mediation first. If mediation fails you can apply to the Court. However, at this stage, it is highly unlikely that your matter would be heard before Santa and his sled arrive.
Step 2. Plan
Parenting plans and orders are a great way to minimise potential conflict in the lead-up to Christmas and will allow everyone involved, including the children, to prepare for what should be a special and exciting time.
Parenting plans are not legally binding or final but do assist in forming a routine.
Step 3. Communication
A communication book may be a helpful tool if you cannot communicate effectively. You could also communicate via text and email – whatever method is chosen, the aim is to shield your kids from the conflict between yourself and the other parent to prevent what sometimes can be irreversible harm caused to your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Step 4. Be reasonable
Regardless of what has happened between you and the other parent, it is important not to criticise the other parent when talking to the children.
You need to accept that your children love the other parent, and the relationship that they have with that parent must be protected. By criticising the other parent, you can create tension for your children because then they want to please you and agree with you but at the same time they still love their other parent.
A counsellor can offer helpful advice on how to cope with difficult relationships. A lawyer can offer legal advice and assist with negotiations for parenting arrangements.
Tips for a Child-Focused and Happy Christmas Holiday
Make sure both parents know about any Christmas plays, concerts or activities coming up and that they have the opportunity to attend.
Involve the children in plan making.
Make Christmas time a happy childhood memory. One of the most important issues for childrens’ mental health is not to be exposed to disputes between their parents. It is suggested that exposing a child to domestic violence is a form of abuse, regardless of whether the child is a target of such violence or not.
What would the children prefer to happen on Christmas day? Is splitting the Christmas day in half what the children would likely prefer? Or would they be happier not to travel on Christmas day – instead spending Christmas with one parent one year and Christmas with the other parent the next year? Would the children be excited to see both parents, grandparents or other people who are important to them on Christmas day?
If you have your children on Christmas day, encourage them to have meaningful contact with the other parent through the course of the day via Skype, Facetime or by phone.
If one parent has issues affecting the children’s safety, such as drug and/or alcohol problems, is there someone trusted who might supervise the time?
Would you let the children take some of the gifts to the other parent’s home?
Can the children give a gift to the other parent?
Have you planned holiday activities and outings, and taken time off work?
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or would like any further information.