On the surface, Christmas is one of the happiest, most magical times of the year – filled with love, laughter and memorable moments paved with green and gold.
But the underbelly often takes on a different complexion, with many people admitting that Christmas makes them nervous and irritable as they struggle with budgeting and buying gifts, planning and cooking meals, and orchestrating family get-togethers.
Christmas anxiety can affect anyone, but it can be especially difficult for families coping with a recent separation or divorce. As one of the most exciting times of the year for children, it’s only natural for parents to want to partake in the celebration. So deciding who gets what time over the Christmas period can get tricky.
Different solutions work for different families, and many parents can come to an amicable agreement that satisfies everyone. But for those who can’t, ensuing arguments can wreak havoc on holiday celebrations.
For a new perspective on making holiday transitions easier, Region Media spoke with Sage Leslie, Family Lawyer at DDCS Lawyers.
“A lot depends on whether arrangements are in place or not,” says Sage. “If nothing is settled, I would definitely suggest communicating plans ahead of time to ensure everyone is on the same page and the kids don’t experience confusion or see their parent’s aggravation over the Christmas period.
“Communication is essential, and it’s important to try to keep children out of conflict. This includes being aware of how you speak about your partner when they’re not around, and how your extended family speaks about them across the Christmas table. Emotions can run high in families during the holidays, so be sure to ask others to speak respectfully about the other parent whenever possible.”
Sage says that while it’s probably too late now to have any legal arrangements put in place by the courts, it may be something to consider in the new year if reaching an agreement proves difficult this Christmas.
“At this late stage, you could possibly see a private mediator or someone at Relationships Australia to help you reach an agreement. Otherwise, next year you could seek advice about creating a parenting plan. While it’s not a legally binding document, it does outline your intentions which can make future planning for events and holidays much easier.
“If you need something more iron clad, you can go to a lawyer and agree on consent orders which are filed with the court. The last resort – if you can’t reach any agreement – is to file an application with the court. But this can take some time to finalise, so you’ll need to do it well in advance of the holidays.”
Sage’s top 4 tips for a stress-free Christmas are:
- Communicate about everything in the lead-up, to minimise confusion. This includes days and times with each parent, presents, phone and Skype calls, and so on.
- Respect the other parent by not speaking negatively about them or to them, and asking family members to do the same.
- Put the interests of the children first. Children rarely want to spend Christmas Day travelling long distances or being shuffled around. So if you have to sacrifice to put their needs first and reinvent Christmas Day a day later, it may be the better option.
- Put your business hat on. You don’t have to like your ex-partner, but you can work together in a business-like way to create a great experience for kids over Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc.
“If you have orders in place and the other parent is not abiding by the rules, you could see your lawyer and ask them to write a letter to reiterate the arrangements. If there are any concerns about family violence, you may need to seek urgent Family Violence Orders through the Magistrates Court and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure everybody’s safety, including calling the police.
“Children love Christmas, and those with separated parents may be lucky enough to be able to celebrate Christmas twice! But this can only happen if both parents agree to put their differences aside and make it as special as possible for them.”
To speak with Sage directly, or to learn more about a family law matter, visit DDCS Lawyers or call (02) 6212 7600.
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