This question arises all too frequently where couples with children have separated and decisions have to be made as to whose home they will wake up at on Christmas morning, when and where the changeover to the other parent will happen, who will do the travelling, and so on.

Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day are very important dates on the calendars of most Australian families, whether as religious or purely social occasions. When marriage or de facto relationships are intact there is usually no problem, as agreements are made between the parents and any older, teenage children about going to church, which relatives and friends will be invited for meals, and when the family will visit grandma and grandpa. These decisions become difficult when the family unit breaks down and if agreement can’t be reached.

So, what to do? The Family Law basics 

The underlying principle adopted by the law is that, so long as there is no physical or emotional danger to children spending time with each parent, the children’s leisure time should be about equally divided between each parent. This is reflected in the “minimum” orders made by the Courts – for example, that school holidays are shared equally between parents and the children spend time with the non-primary parent on alternate weekends during school terms. Nine nights a fortnight with the primary parent and five with the other (usually, but certainly not always, Dad), during school terms is more common. This equal sharing is reflected in the orders the Courts make over the Christmas-New Year period.

What the Courts do about Christmas-New Year 

“I always want the kids to wake up at my place on Christmas morning.” Of course, they did when the parents were together, but they aren’t anymore, so how to work that out? Especially at this time of the year, parents need to think of the children, more than themselves. It might be nice for Mum or Dad to have the kids unwrapping presents at their house on Christmas morning every year, but what about them sharing that happiness with the other parent? Unfortunately, the Courts are asked, year after year, to make decisions about what time children will spent with each parent over the “Festive Season.” Not surprisingly, following the “equal leisure time” principle, they usually order that the kids spend alternate Christmas Eves and mornings with each parent. For example, 4pm Christmas Eve until 4pm Christmas Day with Mum, then 4pm Christmas Day to 4pm Boxing Day with Dad. This allows the children to enjoy Christmas Eve, morning and lunch with Mum, her family and friends, while they still get to see Dad for dinner on Christmas Day and most of Boxing Day. Next year, those arrangements are reversed. That way, the children spend time with both parents over the Christmas period.

What about travelling? 

This should also be shared and can hopefully be agreed between the parents. If it can’t, a “rule of thumb” is that the parent whose house the children are going to picks them up so that, in the example above, Dad would collect them from Mum’s house at 4pm on Christmas Day, then Mum picks them up from Dad’s at 4pm on Boxing Day. For parents living a distance away from each other, say Melbourne and Ballarat, they will often meet halfway to change over the children. If one parent lives interstate, the Court may say the children spend half the Christmas-New Year school holidays with each parent, alternating each year so they are with Mum or Dad for the whole of the Christmas-New Year period, with Zoom contact with the other parent on Christmas and New Year’s Day. For a parent living overseas, again, Zoom contact on those days is far better than no contact at all.

Other issues 

The same principles as above generally apply to other religion-based celebrations, such as Orthodox Easter and Jewish Passover. The children should be given the opportunity, the right, to be involved in those as they did when the parents were together.

One parent taking the children to church on Christmas Day and the other parent objecting? If a decision on this requires Court intervention, the answer usually is that the parent can take the child to church.

“I’m not letting you play with Christmas presents your Father/Mother gave you.” Yes, unfortunately, it happens. That is destructive to the children’s relationship with both parents. Remember, you are going to have to get along with the other parent for the rest of your kids’ childhoods if the kids are going to develop into well balanced adults. Research over the years has shown the great benefits to children of their parents cooperating in raising them.

Disagreements about the children spending time at Christmas and New Year can often be settled at mediation. The Family Relationships Centre in Greensborough offers an excellent, low cost service for parents. Consider contacting them on 9404 7800.

Our experienced, friendly Family Lawyers at Tonkin Legal Group are here to advise and help you to navigate through these and other Family Law issues. Book an appointment with us today.