When Christmas cheer turns to tears – 7 tips for separated families on surviving Christmas

18-November-2019 Family Law By Simone Green

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Or is it? The Christmas period can be particularly challenging for separated families, especially if this is the first Christmas apart. It is also one of the busiest times for family lawyers as people rush to negotiate arrangements for the children over the holiday period. Streeterlaw Accredited Specialist in Family Law, Simone Green shares some tips on how to manage the chaos.

1. Plan Ahead

Communication is the key. Have the conversation with the other parent as early as possible as to what you wish to happen over the Christmas period. Do not leave the discussion to December.

Keep in mind that many law firms close for the period between Christmas and New Year and some firms are on skeleton staff until February and may be unavailable if problems arise.

2. Put it in writing

Written proposals involving a visual, such as a calendar, clearly setting out dates and times, are useful and can be sent via email or other online platforms which may help to reduce misunderstandings around arrangements.

3. Be creative and flexible

There is no right, wrong or ‘usual’ thing when it comes to what works for your family. For example, if the relationship between you and the other parent is amicable, there might be an agreement to come together for Christmas Day for the children rather than moving them about, which can be beneficial for younger children particularly.

Alternatively, it may be suggested for one parent to celebrate with the children on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day rather than Christmas Day and to alternate the following year to reduce the stress on the children in having to move between households on Christmas Day.

Focus on what is best for the children and do whatever is going to work for them, even if it means a change to your usual routine. Make new traditions. Change is hard but if children see you adapting and having fun with them over the Christmas period, it will make it an easier transition for them.

4. Avoid confrontation

Changeover should never be the time to enter discussions about anything other than immediate issues concerning the children. Anything else should be communicated privately away from the children, preferably in writing.

If discussions become heated, walk away and do not engage in front of the children.

5. Avoid being a helicopter parent

In an age where even very young children either have a mobile phone, iPad, smart watch or other device it can be tempting to over communicate with your children when they are spending time with the other parent, especially when you are feeing anxious yourself about them being away.

Be conscious that that your communications with them during this time may have an unsettling effect on the child and actually make it harder for them to adapt to enjoy their time with the other parent.

6. Be realistic

Even the best made plans sometimes go wrong.

People may be late. If you are running late, communicate; if the other parent is running late try not to overreact, especially in front of the children.

A child, especially a young child, may not cope with being away from the other parent. This is hard for them too. If this happens, communicate with the other parent and be flexible to find a solution that can settle the child. It may mean that the time is cut short.

Things may get left behind at the other parent’s home. If an item of significance is left behind, arrange for it to be returned to the child without drama.

7. If things go badly wrong

If you or the children are at risk of violence, leave with the children if it is safe to do so. If not, call the police.

If the other parent appears to be intoxicated or affected by drugs at changeover, do not allow the children to go with that parent. Leave with the children. Document the incident and report it to your family lawyer.

If children are not returned following the agreed time with the other parent:

  1. Call the other parent. They may be running late or have another reason for the delay.
  2. If the other parent simply refuses to return the child and for instance, wants to return the child the next day, if the child is otherwise happy and in no risk of harm, think carefully about overreacting and involving police.
  3. If you know where the child is and have genuine concerns for the child’s safety or wellbeing you may call the police and ask them to do a welfare check. In most circumstances, the police will not remove the child back to your care if the child is otherwise being cared for and appears happy, unless there are parenting orders in place.
  4. Urgent applications can be made for the recovery of children at the Family Court of Australia.

Get the right advice, speak with the Family Law experts at Streeterlaw on 02 8197 0105 today.

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