How to juggle Christmas as a separated family
CHRISTMAS is fast approaching and unfortunately the festive season can bring some headaches for separated families who need to reach agreement about the arrangements for Christmas and the school holidays.
Probably the most important thing for separated parents to realise is that Christmas is an important time for the children and the emphasis should be on them and not the adults. The personal feelings and emotions of the parents need to be kept under control to ensure the festive season results in special memories for the kids and not fearful, anxious ones.
Options for sorting out the arrangements?
Separated parents can reach agreement between themselves about the arrangements that will be best for their children. However, not all parents are able to come to an amicable solution and for many the issue can become clouded by other matters.
Seeking the assistance of a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner or counsellor who can assist with the discussions is a great place to start. These independent professionals can give direction and help keep the discussions focused on the children’s best interests. Organisations such as Relationships Australia or the Family Relationships Centre can assist as can private counsellors.
If agreement can be reached, you can choose to document the arrangements in a Parenting Plan.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is a written agreement which is signed and dated by the parents setting out the arrangements for the care of the children. It records the details of the agreement that you and the other parent have reached and can be as flexible or as detailed as you like. The Plan can specify what arrangements are to apply over the school holidays and for Christmas Day so that the children have the benefit of sharing this special day with both parents.
A Parenting Plan cannot be enforced by a court like a court order can. However, if a parent later applies to the court for orders about the parenting arrangements, the court may have regard to what was agreed to by the parents when they entered into the Parenting Plan.
Working toward a solution that is best for your children should be at the forefront of your decisions.
What does the law say about special days?
The Family Law Act states that when considering what is in a child’s best interests, one of the main considerations is the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents, as long as that is appropriate in the circumstances.
The Act does not make specific mention of special days such as Christmas. The law is concerned with the children having meaningful time or quality time with each parent where that is appropriate for the child. Each family is different and the arrangements that suit your family may not be suitable for another.
If you go to the court seeking orders for the holiday period, the court will make a decision that is in the best interests of your children.
What if I need the court to make orders?
Before you can ask the court for parenting orders, you will need to provide the court with a certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner stating that you have made a genuine effort to sort out the parenting issues before you have filed the proceedings.
In circumstances, such as family violence or abuse, you may be excused from attending mediation. You should talk to your solicitor about this first.
Sorting out what arrangements are in the best interests of your children can be challenging and stressful. However, keeping the parenting arrangements out of the courtroom and focused on the children is generally the best outcome for everyone.
Paula Phelan is a Family Lawyer with Specialist Accreditation in this area from the Queensland Law Society. She has been a lawyer for 23 years and is the director of Phelan Family Law, a Rockhampton legal firm specialising in Family Law only.