Christmas is coming and with it comes food, fun, visiting, travelling and… a slew of family dynamics. While every family has their own unique relationships (and challenges!), when you are a separated parent, the festive season can be especially difficult too. But there are ways to navigate the festive season while managing the impact of separation on your children so that everyone can have a happy Christmas. 

Christmas After Separation: How to Set Up Your Family for a Happy Christmas

Christmas after separation can be hard, particularly if it’s your first time navigating through it. Planning ahead, working to maintain good communication with your former partner and understanding a few legal terms will help significantly. 

Today we’re sharing our best tips for a happy Christmas after separation. 

Tip 1: Plan Early

Holidays – including Christmas – are a special time of year for children. And understandably, both parents would like to be involved in their child’s Christmas. The best way to make this happen is to ensure that you’re openly communicating with your former partner about the holiday changeover. 

But holidays can be emotional – especially when children are involved. So most importantly, we’d recommend being proactive and discussing the holiday and changeover arrangements with your former partner well ahead of the Christmas holiday period. 

Different arrangements that may work are:

  • One parent has the children from 5pm Christmas Eve until 12pm (noon) Christmas Day, handing over to the other parent from 12pm until 9am Boxing Day. This arrangement works best for separated families who live close to one another.

  • Children remain with one parent on Christmas Day but spend a few hours with the other parent during the day. This arrangement could work where children are very young and need to be with their primary caregiver.

  • Children spend the whole Christmas week with one parent, and changeover to the other parent the week before or after. This arrangement could suit separated families who do not live near each other, where travel is involved. In this case, parents could alternate the weeks each year. 

Ideally, both parents need to be motivated to reach an agreement about an arrangement that will work best for their children at Christmas. Understanding and flexibility are important, as are remaining amicable at changeover times.

Tip 2: Consider Your Children

As a parent your first priority will always be your children – even after separation. When it comes to Christmas arrangements, think about the needs of your children first and foremost. And try to make sure that you aren’t projecting what you want onto the children.

The best way to handle this is to have formal arrangements in place well before the holidays. These could be parenting plans or consent orders. 

Parenting Plans and Consent Orders  – What’s the Difference? 

Parenting plans and consent orders are the two ways by which parents can document their agreement regarding arrangements for their child/ren, in accordance with the Family Law Act 1975. Formally documenting your agreement helps each parent to understand what has been agreed, which will help avoid any future disputes or misunderstandings. 

When it comes to having a happy Christmas after separation, having a parenting plan or consent orders in place is vital. Either can help reduce potential conflict during the Christmas season by letting everyone know how family time will be divided and, when well done, ensure everyone gets a fair amount of time with loved ones. However there are some differences between the two.

Parenting Plans

A parenting plan is a voluntary written agreement that covers:

  • The daily responsibilities of each parent for their children, such as financial and healthcare matters.

  • Practical considerations for a child’s daily life, such as living arrangements and education.

  • How parents will discuss and come to agreements on important long-term issues relevant to their children. 

There is no need to go to court to enter a parenting plan, but seeking legal advice is advisable to ensure that you are considering all the factors that could come into play and situations that might arise. It’s important to note that parenting plans are not legally enforceable. They are different from parenting orders, which are made by a court. 

Parenting plans offer more flexibility than consent orders and may be suitable for short term arrangements, particularly when there is an amicable relationship between parents. For a parenting plan to work well, each parent’s intention must be to honour their agreement. 

Consent Orders

While parenting orders are more flexible, consent orders offer more certainty than parenting plans. They are made by either the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) and Local Court and formalises an agreement between separated parents. The agreement can deal with both parenting and financial arrangements for the children. 

The orders may include: 

  • Which parent (or other adult) the child/ren will live with.

  • The amount of time a child will spend with each parent.

  • Who has parental responsibility for the child/ren. 

Unlike parenting orders, consent orders are legally binding. And this means they are legally binding and enforceable, should one party breach the order. And if one party does breach the orders, the court may impose penalties. 

Of course, consent orders can be amended and this amendment would then become part of the enforceable consent order. 

Tip 3: Maintain Open Communication

During the Christmas season, communication really is key. If you are not able to communicate with your former partner for whatever reason, there are apps to make the process easier. 

These apps – such as Divvito – can help you both to share your thoughts about seasonal festivities, such as school Christmas concerts, who will play Santa, and avoiding doubling up on gifts. The apps can be of great practical help throughout separation and divorce… and can help you have a happy Christmas after separation. 

Tip 4: Take Care of Yourself 

Christmas as a separated parent can be tough – especially in the early years. Make sure you’re looking after yourself as well. Spend time with friends and family, do things you love and treat yourself with love and care. Your kids love and need you and the better you can take care of you, the better you can take care of them. 

Christmas after separation doesn’t have to be sad, lonely or isolated. It can still be filled with love and joy!

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