Christmas and Family Separation – What your Family Lawyer needs you to know

13-December-2021 Family Law By Simone Green

2021 has been a challenging year for all with Covid-19 lockdowns, the pressures of home schooling and sadly for many, also navigating life as a separated family with children. Streeterlaw’s Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer Simone Green, provides some important tips for separated parents during the Christmas Season and school holiday period.

1. Plan ahead.

  • As the countdown to Christmas approaches, you will need to carefully consider how to manage the arrangements for the children during the Christmas/New Year period and the December/January school holidays.
  • Create a proposal for how time with the children will be shared between parents, via a visual aid such as an electronic calendar setting out important details such as changeover location and times and provide it to the other parent well in advance to allow for negotiations.
  • There are many useful parenting Apps which can assist you with communication about the children and scheduling. A quick online search will allow you to choose the one which suits you best, usually for a small monthly fee.
  • Engaging a professional such as a parenting co-ordinator is also an invaluable resource for separated parents.
  • If you are unable to come to an agreement on how to share time with the children, you will need to attend mediation as a first option before seeking the assistance of the Court. There are both free of charge and paid options available.
  • The Court will not hear interim parenting Applications for orders relating (in whole or in part) to the December/January school holiday period beyond the 2nd week in November, unless in matters of extreme urgency where the Registry may abridge times and list the matter on short notice.
  • Keep in mind that most lawyers take annual leave over the December/January period and may not be available to assist you until at least the second week of January.
  • The Court remains open on skeleton staff for all but the public holidays during the December and January for the most urgent issues.

2. Be child focused

  • Any arrangements for time sharing between parents must be tailored to suit the age and individual circumstances of the children.
  • Time spent arrangements for a 2-year-old are going to look very different than for an 8-year-old, particularly if the child will be away from their primary caregiver for block periods of time.
  • Where possible, for babies and younger children, shorter and more frequent time with the non-residential parent may be preferrable to longer block periods of time.
  • There is no “50% law” for parenting, although it is an arrangement which may work for your family, or at least be a goal to work towards in time.
  • Parental separation is hard on children too, especially if this is new to them. It is natural that there will be an adjustment period for everyone. If an arrangement is causing significant distress to the child, be flexible and try again.
  • NEVER discuss care arrangements in the presence or hearing of the children, even small children may be affected by hostile communications between parents. Where possible, communicate all arrangements via email or text messaging.
  • NEVER ask children to deliver messages to the other parent, this is not their role and can have significant effects on a child’s mental health and relationship with each parent.
  • If you cannot be confident of smooth non-confrontational changeovers with the other parent, consider asking a trusted mutual friend or family member to help deliver or collect the children between the parents; at least for a while. You may also consider changeovers in a public place with security cameras.
  • In cases where either parent has re-partnered, do not involve the new partner in changeovers, especially if a new relationship, without first consulting the other parent. Essentially, avoid situations which may provoke the other parent.
  • Remember, the Court’s primary consideration is the best interests of the child, not the parent.

3. Be realistic

  • If this is your first Christmas as a separated family, it will be hard on both you and your children. There may be behavioural changes in the children, it will take time. Being upset about having to spend time away from either parent is natural for a child and in an ideal world, both parents would help the child to process this new normal.
  • Access any support services available to you either practically or by way of some professional counselling and discuss obtaining counselling for the children if necessary.

It is essential that you speak with a specialist family lawyer well in advance of the Christmas closure period to obtain advice tailored to your unique circumstances. Streeterlaw recognises the difficulties faced by separated parents, especially at this time of year. Call and speak to our Family Law team today on 02 8197 0105 and let us help provide you with a roadmap forward to a brighter new year for you and your children.

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