It is that time of year when tensions start to run can run high for separated families as summer holidays, Christmas day and New Year plans 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 discord where children might become caught in the middle.

What can you, as separated parents, do to make Christmas magical for your children?

Try implementing these handy tips to keep things civil and stress-free this Christmas.

Step 1. Plan

Parenting plans and orders are a great way to minimise potential conflict in the lead-up to Christmas. They 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 2. 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 case is determined on the individual circumstances of the family, 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 are required to attend mediation first to attempt to resolve the issue.

If mediation fails, you can apply to the Court to determine the issue. However, at the time of writing, it is highly unlikely that your matter would be heard before Santa and his sled arrive.

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.

Alternatively, there are a fantastic range of co-parenting apps parents may use, such as 2Houses (AndroidApple), FamCal (AndroidApple) and Our Family Wizard (AndroidApple), that create a platform for parents to co-ordinate schedules, send requests to vary arrangements and communicate about all things in relation to the children.

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 impose stress upon your children who might feel torn between pleasing both you and the 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

  • Are there Christmas plays, concerts or activities coming up which need to be communicated to both parents.
  • Make Christmas time a happy childhood memory. One of the most important issues for children’s 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 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 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 you don’t have the children on Christmas Day, make plans with friends and family ahead of time.
  • 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.

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