The Christmas/ New Year holiday period can be a stressful time for families. Presents to buy, parties to attend, work to finish at the office or at home and, for those of us who live in the outer parts of Melbourne, cleaning up their properties for the bushfire season. Add to that, attending family gatherings where not everyone gets along, and what should be a happy, restful time can turn out to be anything but.

So, if that’s what it’s like for families that are together, imagine what it can be for those that have separated. No longer are Mum and Dad both there when the children wake up on Christmas morning, there is no excitement for them, and their parents, as they open their presents. And then there’s the matter of meals over Christmas. No longer do the children go to their grandparents’ or other relatives’ homes with their parents for Christmas lunch or dinner, or out for a BBQ with their extended family. These changes to the Christmas routine can be annoying for the parents, but imagine how distressing, not just stressful, they are for the children.

Sadly, when the parents’ relationship breaks down they, often without thinking it through, effectively punish the children for the failure of the marriage or de facto relationship. In the context of Christmas, this can happen in several ways. One parent will refuse to let the children play with a present given to them by the other parent or, worse still, will not even give the present to the child. Or a parent will refuse to let the child attend a family Christmas function because the parent doesn’t like one or more of the relatives attending. Then there’s the recurring problem that Family Lawyers must deal with every Christmas – how much time will the children spend with each parent over the Christmas/Boxing Day period, and the long summer school holidays?  

As you can imagine, the Family Courts hate these kinds of disputes, of which, unfortunately, there are many at this time of year. So much so that the Courts now impose a deadline, in November, by which applications about Christmas/New Year time with children must be filed if the parties want the case heard before Christmas Day.  The Courts’ solution is, typically, to order that the children spent Christmas Eve and morning, often up to after lunch on Christmas Day, with one parent, and Christmas Eve until Boxing Day afternoon with the other, alternating each year. The same principles are applied by the Courts to the summer school holidays – half and half to each parent, or week about if the children are young and may have problems being separated from their primary caregiver for long periods of time, or for shorter changeovers where the children are pre-schoolers.

But it’s certainly not necessary to go to Court to sort out these issues. The parents can, and should, set their differences aside and work cooperatively for the sake of the children to decide for them to spend time with each parent, and with their extended families, over the Christmas/New Year period. That can only benefit the children. But, if you see problems arising with visiting rights, mediation is available to help find solutions (but get in early – the mediation services are always busy before Christmas and are often closed until well into January.

Of course, what I have said isn’t confined to Christian Christmas. All the faiths have their special periods of observance, and the same principles apply equally to them.

If this has raised questions for you, the Family Law Team at Tonkin Legal Group are here to help you with sound advice about these issues. You can contact us today on (03) 9435 9044.