The countdown to Christmas has begun and school holidays are just around the corner. Many parents will be busy buying presents, putting up the tree, and planning fun school holiday activities.

Amidst the fun and excitement, a dispute with your ex-partner about parenting arrangements can sour the joy and togetherness of the festive season with your children.

In the busy lead up to the holidays, it can be easy for scheduling conflicts, family traditions and vacation plans to cause disputes between separated parents trying to create magical memories with their young ones.

At this time of year especially, it is important to remember that the children come first. Separated parents should be mindful that:

  • Minimising children’s exposure to parental conflict is essential. A dispute with your ex-partner can easily escalate to conflict which can have long-lasting impacts on your children. Communicate early, openly and respectfully with your ex-partner to avoid disagreements turning ugly, while also modelling good conflict resolution skills for your children.
  • If your travel plans affect the other parent’s time with the children, make sure you plan for “make up time”. The benefit to children of experiencing travel should not be at the expense of meaningful time with their other parent during the festive season and summer school holidays.
  • Ensure you have the consent of the other parent before embarking on travel. Sections 65X and 65Y of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) make it a criminal offence to take a child overseas without the other parent’s written consent, or permission from the Court if you are involved in Court proceedings or have Court Orders. Court Orders may also restrict your ability to travel with the children interstate within Australia. Consult your Court Orders carefully to ensure that you are not in breach.
  • For children old enough to give Christmas gifts, consider helping your child to buy or make a gift for their other parent. Encouraging your child’s relationship with their other parent is child-focussed and embraces the spirit of Christmas.
  • At this time of year, many schools and community groups have special events. Christmas carols, school assemblies and sports wind-ups are special times for children, parents and extended family alike. Maintaining civil, respectful conduct in these environments will help ensure that everybody experiences the holiday cheer.
  • Christmas is a time for families to come together. Spread the Christmas cheer by facilitating your child’s relationship with extended family members on all sides. Unlike Santa, it may not be possible to visit every house in one night, but a short phone call or Facetime with your child’s extended family could mean so much to your child and their family members, particularly those who are elderly or isolated.

By keeping the focus on the children at Christmas, parents can focus on celebrating the season without the added stress of family law issues.

If you do encounter a family law issue this festive season, our Family Law team at Lavan can provide you with advice.

Our office will be open until Friday, 22 December 2023, and we will re-open in the new year on Monday, 8 January 2024.

Thank you to Danielle Wilson, solicitor in the Lavan Family Law team, for her contribution to this article.