The Christmas time struggle…
Christmas is meant to be a time for festive cheer, mulled wine (although perhaps not in 40 degrees!), celebrations and good old fashioned family time. However, for many separated parents, Christmas is a time for arguments, when they find themselves fighting over who gets the children on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or both!
As Family Lawyers, we see this far too often and sadly, we also see it far too late. The Family Court has a cut-off date for Christmas contact applications (usually mid-November), and unfortunately, that date has now passed.
We recommend resolving your Christmas contact issues as early as possible, and if you can, reaching an agreement that will work every year!
If you are organised and fortunate enough to have agreed contact arrangements months ago, we congratulate you. However, if you are fretting because it’s a week before Christmas and you still don’t know if you will be seeing your children over Christmas, we can offer these practical tips:-
Take turns pretending to be ‘Santa’
Children believe in Santa, and believe that he will find them wherever they are. So as parents, you could take it in turns to play Santa! If one parent had the children for Christmas morning last year, consider alternating it this year. Better still, if both parents are on reasonably amicable terms, you could consider sharing Christmas Day. The Family Court considers what is best for the children, and they may decide that it is best for the children to spend Christmas morning with a parent, at least once every two years.
Consider the children’s ages and the distance between the parental homes
You want your children to have joyous memories of Christmas holidays, and children do not want to spend Christmas Day traveling. If you and your former partner live far apart, see if you can work out an arrangement where their grandparents, cousins and other close relatives can make a special effort to call in to your home, rather than taking the children on a round of visits. This way, they can spend quality time with all of the people they love, showing and playing with their gifts, without having to move around too much. If the children are very young, stability the building of strong, peaceful traditions at Christmas time is what counts most, creating a firm foundation of happy memories.
What is important to you and your former partner at Christmas time when it comes to various religious beliefs and practices, the timing and composition of mealtime celebrations, and family traditions you would like your children to become aware of and observe? If you and your former partner share similar beliefs and values, it will be much less stressful for your children to enjoy Christmas activities. If, however, you and your former partner have conflictual beliefs, practices, and traditions, it is important to discuss this so that there is mutual respect for each other’s differences so that these do not create stress for your children. Do your best to allow your children to enjoy the differences, rather than criticising them.
Don’t overdo the gifts
Unfortunately, some parents think that if they buy the better gift, the children will want to spend time with them at Christmas, rather than the other parent. This can turn into a competition caused by guilt between the separated parents, where each is “going overboard” to please their children, in an attempt to make up for the trauma of separation. To avoid this, and to take the pressure off the children, you may want to consider discussing gifts with the other parent and agreeing on a price range, or a list of gifts from which you can each choose. The danger of spoiling children following a separation is that they get used to it, and as they get older they learn to play one parent off against the other.
In summary, do your best to put your own feelings aside and think about the children and what is in their best interests. Parents usually want what is best for the children, and may sometimes lose sight of this if there is unresolved conflict surrounding the separation. The best way to deal with this is to undergo family counseling or mediation where an arrangement can be put in place as soon as possible, and the children can feel safe when they see both parents respecting that arrangement.
If you or your children have experienced family violence, and you are concerned about the safety of yourself and your children this Christmas, it is not too late to obtain protection. The Magistrates Court is open until Christmas Eve, and if needed, it is possible to apply for a Family Violence Restraining Order, and include your children to ensure that you are all safe this Christmas.
We are able to offer you advice and assistance throughout the year. If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised or parenting arrangements in general, please contact us.