Sharing the kids at Christmas? Now’s the time to get organised

Christmas is fast approaching. For separated families it is a potentially difficult time if former partners can’t agree over care arrangements for the children over the holiday period.

If you have children with a former partner, now is the time to sort out those care arrangements. Getting a headstart on this will help avoid any conflict and risk of spoiling the festive season for your children.

Happily for many, arrangements can be made by agreement, by way of telephone call or email to the other parent making a proposal and compromising with each other about each other’s commitments.

However, that is not the case for everybody. If parents don’t see eye to eye, agreeing to holiday arrangements is easier said than done.

It may be that this is the first Christmas for which you, your children and your former partner are not together as a family. If that is the case, you should act soon.  A quick email to your former partner putting forward your ideas is absolutely the best way to “get the ball rolling”.

Some of you may already have Court Orders in place, whether you are still in the court process (i.e. interim orders) or Final Orders.  Those orders may or may not provide for exact times for each of you to spend with the children over the break.   Even if your orders are reasonably prescriptive, it is worthwhile confirming those times now with your ex-partner, particularly if you are not represented by a lawyer.

If you have tried writing to the other parent and you have not had any response or have not received a positive one then you should consider what further steps you can take as soon as possible.  You may need the assistance of a Family Relationships Centre or other mediation service to talk about the times that the children will live with you or spend time with you.

Unfortunately, even if you contacted a mediation service today, my suspicion is that (unless you are very lucky) you would be unlikely to get a joint session and an agreement prior to Christmas.  For that reason you might need to consider obtaining the services of a lawyer to write to your former partner on your behalf, to make a proposal for times over the Christmas period.  In the unfortunate event that your proposal is not agreed by the other parent, you might need to consider making an application to Court.  That will be the case whether you are currently in Court proceedings or are yet to commence them.

As you may or may not know, the Family Law Courts are terribly backlogged and there is often significant delay in getting a hearing date, if you need to make an application.  For that reason it is recommended by the Courts that any party wishing to bring an application to be heard before Christmas do so as early as possible.  If you delay, you may not get a hearing before Christmas.  And, even if you get a hearing before Christmas, it may be that the Judge does not make a decision on the day and needs time to go away and think about your matter and write a Judgement.  That process can take a month or more.

The long and the short of it is, then, that if it looks like you will need legal assistance to arrange the care of your children over the festive period you should obtain legal advice and seek to progress negotiations as soon as possible.

Tindall Gask Bentley are family law specialists. We offer SA’s largest family law team, as well as offices in Perth, Brisbane and Darwin.