Although your family lawyer is probably always happy to see you, no one has happy memories of spending Christmas in a family law dispute. Arranging child custody over the Christmas holidays can be tricky for newly divorced parents, especially if both parents would like to be with the child on special holidays. Different arrangements work for different parents, however if you’re struggling to come to an agreement, here are a few tips on how to survive the holiday period.
It’s also important to remember that wanting to spend time with your child on special holidays is a natural desire for both parents. This is why you should consider the wishes of your child’s other parent as well as your own. Being understanding of the other parent’s situation is the best way to remain civil and come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
Of course it is in your child’s best interest to keep stress to a minimum and disputes at bay during this time. However, if one parent is reluctant to agree on an arrangement, there are options that can be considered to ensure a fair and civil agreement (which we’ll get into later).
Five tips for how to make it through Christmas
Here are five practical tips about how to make it through the holidays, particularly the first time. Trust us, it does get easier as you and your children build up a new set of happy and sustaining traditions.
1. Settle plans well in advance, and get them in writing. Sometimes Parenting Orders are quite explicit and sometimes arrangements are more informal. Especially for informal arrangements, you should try to reach an agreement several months prior to the Christmas period. Christmas often involves extended family celebrations, so negotiating early will ensure that everyone involved has a chance to adjust their schedules. It also lends an air of certainty to an already unsettled time.
2. Try to agree on a predictable framework for time spent with children, something that will not have to be re-negotiated every year. Where parents live close to each other, many settle on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent and Christmas afternoon and Boxing Day with the other.
3. Where parents live further away from one another, one common arrangement involves allocating half of the Christmas holidays to each parent, alternating each year between the first and the second half. Keep track of even and odd, and remember that older children will begin to want to have considerable say in these arrangements.
4. Embrace the notion that Christmas is not an all-or-nothing event that occurs on December 25. The twelve days of Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Three Kings Day or even Advent and Epiphany of the religious calendar could have been invented for divorced, separated, blended and all other kinds of complicated families. More opportunities for celebration are a good thing.
5. Accept the fact that your holiday traditions are going to change. They would have anyway, as you, the children and perhaps their grandparents get older. Change just arrived a little earlier. It gives you chance to be fun and creative.
6. If you are not going to be spending Christmas with your children for the first time, find something to do that will keep you very busy for the entire day, preferably with other people, and which will leave you far too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything but fall asleep –a marathon would be perfect. You will likely meet other people coping well with the same issue.
If either you or your former spouse’s holiday plans involve international travel, remember that it will require the consent of the other parent. In extreme cases, government authorities can prevent a child from leaving the country at the airport. That would be a bad holiday memory that can be easily avoided.
What to Do if Things Go Wrong
Let us suppose that your behavior has been exemplary in every way but your former spouse has not complied with the terms of the Parenting Order or has disregarded the details of an informal agreement.
Rule Number One is “Thou shalt not express anger or frustration to the children.” Your adult thoughts are to be expressed to other adults only.
Rule Number Two is that it is probably pointless to pick a fight with your former spouse. It is a given that you don’t really get along.
Rely on your solicitor’s advice about whether it is necessary to return to the Family Court to enforce the terms of a Parenting Order. If your former spouse is a chronic disregarder of informal arrangements, it may be best to seek a Parenting Order. If you have any reasonable fears that your former spouse is intent on violating custody agreements, discuss this possibility with your solicitor well in advance, so that you may be prepared to be proactive in prevention.
If you have questions about child custody arrangements over the upcoming Christmas holidays, the family lawyers at Owen Hodge Lawyers are here to help. Although this may be your first time through this particularly difficult situation, we have been through it many times with our clients. Call us with any concerns at 1800 770 780. We share your goal of making sure that the holidays are full of happy times and happy memories for the future for both you and your children.