It’s beginning to look a lot like…that particular time of year that some separating and divorcing co-parents really dread. If you’re separating or divorcing, the festive season can certainly loom as rather less than festive when you have to civilly liaise with an ex over how to carve up Christmas time with the kids.
Hopefully, given it’s now early December, you’ve already given thought to the logistics of your Christmas parenting arrangements this year. If this isn’t your first rodeo, you’ve probably already established arrangements that work well for everyone. But if it’s all fairly new, your first Christmas apart can be very hard, including figuring out how best to do the whole kids having two Christmases thing from now on.
So here’s what you need to remember about the legal side of Christmas co-parenting.
Making practical and lawful arrangements
Firstly, if you have court orders in place, check to confirm if they cover Christmas and the holiday period. Holiday contact orders for kids are routinely made in court orders so make sure you understand any legal obligations you have and follow orders to the letter, unless you and your ex-partner have an agreement to vary the orders.
If you don’t have orders in place, consider seeing a family lawyer who will help you reach a sensible agreement with your ex and create a parenting plan, a written document detailing how you intend sharing child care and parental responsibilities, including over the Christmas period.
A parenting plan can be flexible to take into account a child’s changing developmental needs, and makes a good enduring co-parenting solution.
But agreeing on any practical arrangements well in advance with your ex will depend on mutual respect, good communication, and allowing enough time to resolve any potential problems. And sometimes there’s just not enough trust and goodwill and you feel it’s inevitable you’ll need a court to intervene to impose and enforce orders.
If a parenting plan isn’t likely to be achieved however because you vehemently disagree on arrangements for the kids or because you struggle to be on speaking terms with your ex, you may feel you need to go to court. Unfortunately, the cut-off date for filing applications in the Family Court that would ensure a hearing date this year was allocated has now passed. And although the Federal Circuit Court has no prescribed cut-off, the anticipated return date there of an initiating application or application in a case is six to eight weeks from the date of filing.
If you would like to formalise arrangements for spending time with your children this Christmas, your best bet now is to agree to a parenting plan and come to an informal, workable arrangement in the meantime with your co-parent. We can help you in communicating with your ex-partner to reach an agreement, even if it is a temporary agreement that just covers the school holidays and Christmas.
Is urgent mediation possible?
In most cases, family law disputes are able to be resolved through mediation and with the help of skillful negotiation by family lawyers, which is why the court system demands that co-parents undertake mediation before being able to file an application in court. So if you have parenting orders through the courts, you’ll already have been sent to compulsory mediation before having been able to make an application, unless you had an exemption. That mediation ideally also gave you very good tools for how best to approach a situation regarding Christmas co-parenting arrangements.
Otherwise though, you might be tempted to look into mediation for the first time at this point, to help get your ex to agree to arrangements without needing court involvement.
Naturally, the earlier you invite your co-parent to mediation the better. Unfortunately, it may already be a little late in the year to book in for a mediator as services are especially high in demand at this time of year but you could always try. Understand though that with mediation, it tends to take couples a little time to reach amicable resolutions.
If you have trouble finding a mediator, also try a family lawyer. Both family lawyers and mediators can assist with helping you and your ex agree on a formula for contact arrangements that works for you both. When you have reached agreement through mediation, the next decision is whether or not to formalise your agreement with consent orders or a parenting plan, so you may need to see a family lawyer at that stage too.
Christmas co-parenting and travel
Regarding Christmas and school holiday travel, the main thing is to make sure it’s all legal. For example, regarding overseas travel, under section 65Y of the Family Law Act 1975, if you are a parent involved in current court proceedings, you will need to obtain the other parent’s written consent before you can remove your child from the court’s jurisdiction, regardless of how short your trip is intended to be. We encourage clients to try to amicably obtain the written consent of the other parent before making any travel arrangements. If you come to an agreement informally with your ex (without the assistance of a family lawyer) make sure you record specific agreements in writing.
If travel consent is not given, you’ll really need to file through the courts to have travel plans permitted by way of orders, but this just won’t happen in time for the upcoming Christmas period, unless there are urgent circumstances.
On the other hand if you are wishing to prevent your child travelling overseas or there is a chance of a child being abducted or in cases involving family violence, it may be possible to have an application listed as urgent, sometimes on an ex parte (without the other party being present) basis.
Other urgent matters
You may also be seeking to apply for urgent orders in relation to preservation of assets or other injunctive relief in relation to a property matter, such orders issued when courts will not have the time to look into the matter in the usual way.
Even if you didn’t make applications in time for the filing deadline this year, don’t fret over the possibility of a family law situation arising over the festive period with which you might need help from the family courts. You will still have remedies. Although physical registries will be closed as outlined below, urgent matters can be dealt with by judges in interstate registries remotely.
We can assist you with urgent family law and Christmas co-parenting matters that may arise over the holiday period, such as preventing the removal of your child from the jurisdiction of the court, recovery orders, or injunctive relief in property matters. Please take note of our contact details, in case you find you do require urgent family law related legal help over the Christmas period. In addition to our office landline, our office mobile number 0420 312 114 will be monitored frequently. If the phones are not answered, please leave a message and we will return your call as soon as possible.
Christmas court registry hours
You can check these here.
If you need assistance with any of the Christmas co-parenting matters discussed above, or any other family law matter, please ocontact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.
You may also like to read our blog on Christmas co-parenting that keeps things merry and stress-free.