The Christmas holidays are usually a wonderful time of the year where families all get together and celebrate. However, for some separated families with children, these holidays bring about a period of sadness, stress and bitterness that can be managed with proper prior planning.
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. This year, The Family Court is only accepting these applications until 13 November 2020. After this time, it is likely that you may not get a hearing until after Christmas or even early 2021.
In today’s blog, we will suggest some ways to organise parenting arrangements over the Christmas period with a 5-step plan. Hopefully, this will enable children to be able to spend quality time with both parents.
First and foremost, when it comes to children, the Family Courts paramount consideration is the ‘best interests of the child’. During this time of the year, it is especially important to keep this in mind when discussing arrangements with the other parent. While it may be easy to say that the best interests of the child are that they spend the majority of the time with one parent or the other it is always important to remember that, by law, this term refers to having a meaningful relationship with both parents provided that the child is protected from physical and psychological harm. These are the primary considerations.
Secondly, communicate. Without resorting to degradation or name-calling try and set any differences aside for the sake of the child or children enjoying a memorable holiday. Negotiation is key here. Try and think about something you could compromise that does not mean too much to you but would mean the world to the other parent. If you can do this then you are setting the field for reciprocal gestures of kindness and goodwill.
Thirdly, be understanding. This ties in with the above point that if you can compromise something, then do so. Especially over the holiday period where the children are going to be spending time with each other’s families, you may find that things such as times for changeover may need to be amended slightly. If this happens, don’t freak out. Remember step 2 and communicate. Then remember step 1 and consider ‘the best interests of the child’.
Fourthly, have a plan in place and do your best to stick to it. Child psychologists agree that children need consistency in their schedules, and this is even more paramount when co-parenting. Children will learn to use inconsistent parenting styles to play one parent off against the other. Poor consistency with respect to parenting can also lead to attachment issues with children. This can cause a range of social, behavioural and emotional problems for children. If you have been consistent in parenting all year do not let the festive season undermine everything you have both worked hard for. Have a plan in place and stick to it.
Finally, be emotionally prepared. Separation is difficult and having to spend time away from your children on Christmas can make it seem almost unbearable. Being overwhelmed can cause us to lash out and do a lot of damage that we otherwise did not intend to cause. Know that this time of the year is going to be difficult in some areas if you are separated with children. Take time out for yourself when you need to and always have the best interests of your child or children at the forefront of your mind.