The date is apparently so popular because people do not want to face the Christmas season with their current partner and their families. Family, social and financial pressures also tend to increase during the festive season causing relationship stress, tension and often arguments.
Leading into the Christmas period, if you are already separated, here are some practical and sensible tips – Marino Law’s “12 tips for Family Law bliss this Christmas”:
- Plan ahead. Whilst Christmas is bearing down upon us at the speed of light, there is still time to reach agreement about what is to happen over the Christmas period, both financially and in relation to the children’s arrangements.
There are still mediators who are available to assist urgently, and family lawyers are always available with flexibility in the lead up to Christmas.
Well respected and experienced family lawyers know that this period is the busiest and most stressful for families and understand that we may need to provide urgent assistance and advice including court attendances and mediation, in order to assist families to get through the festive season.
Whilst a Court Order may be hard to achieve with limited trading days before Christmas, a Parenting Plan may well be the best option for your family rather than formal Court orders.
- When it comes to children’s arrangements for Christmas Day, focus always, always on what would make their day less stressful, interrupted and conflictual.
There are no hard and fast rules on what arrangements for Christmas Eve to Boxing Day should be. Whatever works for your family is what is best.
Do not buy into what a friend’s uncle’s cousin’s sister did, focus on your family and your children. Whilst there is likely to be sadness for one parent who does not wake with the children on Christmas Day, it is an opportunity to create new traditions and new memories.
At the end of the day, Christmas is for children and making the day as magical for them as possible ought to be your focus.
- Have some perspective. Christmas Day is one Yes, it would be nice to spend it as a family, but relationships end, and life doesn’t always go according to plan. Be the adult and (where appropriate) speak with your children about what they would like for Christmas Day.
Don’t try to fit in seeing every single member of both parent’s immediate and extended family, you and the children will both be exhausted, and the day will not be enjoyable for anyone. Part of being an adult is putting on that smile and keep it on, in front of the children at least. Remember, when in doubt, be the bigger person, this will make your kids the happiest.
- Surround yourself with your “tribe”. Whether this is your immediate family, extended family or friends that have become family, try to distract yourself from what may seem to be the loneliest of times by immersing yourself with your family.
They are there to support you, so don’t be afraid to take up those supports.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you find yourself getting caught up in the little things, stop and re-direct your attention instead to the important things and how you want to remember your day.
Rather than remembering whether your ex was five minutes late to changeover or that the kids went on and on about their cool new present at the other house, focus on the memories of spending time with loved ones, remember laughing, over indulging in food and the silly Christmas outfits!
- Don’t be a grinch. If you are the parent who is in a superior financial position, Christmas time is not the time to put the squeeze on the other parent to achieve an aim (be it financially or with the children).
Be generous, support the person that you chose to have a family with to ensure that they and most importantly your children do not miss out.
- Remember what Christmas is really about. Christmas is really about love, family, friendship and remembering how lucky we are.
It is not about winning the battle with your ex and being the parent who gives the best gifts or spends the most money or takes the kids to the best theme park or on the best holiday. It is not a competition. Kids know when you are competing for the title of “best parent ever” and deep down it just makes them feel sad.
- Communication is key. If you have your children on Christmas Day, encourage them to have meaningful contact with the other parent through the course of the day via Skype, Facetime or by phone.
Also consider if there are Christmas plays, concerts or activities coming up which need to be communicated to both parents.
A communication book may be a helpful tool if you cannot communicate effectively. You could also communicate via text and email – whatever method is chosen; the aim is to shield your kids from the conflict between yourself and the other parent to prevent what sometimes can be irreversible harm caused to your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Alternatively, there are a fantastic range of co-parenting apps parents may use, such as 2Houses (Android, Apple), FamCal (Android, Apple) and Our Family Wizard (Android, Apple), that create a platform for parents to co-ordinate schedules, send requests to vary arrangements and communicate about all things in relation to the children.
- Don’t focus on perfection. It’s easy to get caught up in the ideal family Christmas you see on TV, but it’s important to remind yourself there isn’t one ‘perfect’ way to spend Christmas day. Just because how you celebrate may be different, doesn’t make it any less special.
Children in separated households often enjoy two Christmas Days between 24 and 26 December, and if Santa knows where to leave his presents, the children often don’t mind at all.
Try to free yourself from unnecessary pressure. There are unrealistic expectations, garnered by “influencers” and celebrities, making parents feel too much pressure for Christmas to be perfect.
Combine this with money worries, the logistics of you both wanting Christmas morning with your kids and the feelings of guilt and loneliness that can be overwhelming. Remove any expectations you may have of Christmas Day and try to think about want would make you truly happy.
- Welcome new partners and spouses with care. If you have a relatively new partner, the holidays are probably not the best time to introduce that person to your children.
However, if new partners are well established with your family already, the holidays can be a good time to create a blended family moving forward. Finding ways to welcome this person into your family’s traditions and incorporating some of their traditions can create a rich holiday experience for everyone.
If you know your children do not favour your new partner (not uncommon!) avoid using the holidays to try to force togetherness. If you see these feelings develop, try consulting a family therapist for guidance on handling the holiday season and helping your children become comfortable around your new partner.
- Have a plan if things go wrong. However hard we try and make Christmas picture-book perfect, things can still go wrong, especially if you are co-parenting at Christmas.
If small issues arise, make a note of them for the following year, so you can prevent them happening again.
Unfortunately, high revelry, daytime drinking and the build-up of pressure can cause Christmas Day disasters, including ruined plans, breach of court orders or just terrible behaviour.
Should any of these things happen, do your very best to protect your children (and of course yourself) and do not hesitate to call 000 if you need police support. Family Lawyers are often closed for around two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period, so if you need legal help, keep a note of all the events with dates and time, and book a meeting for as soon as you can.
- Finally, get advice before your lawyer closes! Most law firms close their doors for two weeks over Christmas, so that your trusted advisor can renew and refresh for the new year ahead.
If you have no formal arrangements for the Christmas period, then it is very sensible to meet with a lawyer prior to their last trading day to obtain some advice about how to deal with any curve balls the Christmas period throws at you.
If urgent issues arise for you over the Christmas period (either in respect of your parenting arrangements or financial matters) or you find yourself separated during this time and need to receive some urgent clarification or preliminary practical advice, reach out to Marino Law via telephone or email. We will remain available over the Christmas break to assist you if the need arises.
Remember, if there are any issues arising which cause you to be fearful of your physical safety, then call 000 without delay.
From the Marino Law family to yours, we hope that these tips will help you through the Christmas period with as little stress as possible. We are open until 12.00 noon on 20 December 2019 for appointments to discuss all aspects of your family law needs. Contact us on 07 55260157 or via our website www.marinolaw.com.au to make an appointment.