Santa Claus is coming to town… don’t wait until the 12 Days of Christmas to think about parenting arrangements. The deadline for Christmas contact filling in the Family Court is the second Friday in November.
In the lead up to Christmas, there is a routine influx of parenting applications filed with the Family Court. Parents tend to panic if they don’t reach an agreement as to where, and with whom, the children will spend Christmas.
It’s an understandable concern but Family Court should not be the first port of call, it should be the last resort. The best decisions for the children are made by parents who have their best interests at heart; not by a Judge or a Magistrate.
This is exactly where the focus should be: on the children’s best interests, not the parents. Parents of separated families should communicate as best as possible and plan for Christmas arrangements ahead of time – making your children’s happiness your priority.
10 tips for making Christmas arrangements
With this in mind, here are our top tips for negotiating parenting arrangements for Christmas:
- Do not expect Christmas Day to stay the same. What used to happen may no longer be appropriate or even possible.
- Christmas Day doesn’t need to be the only day of celebration. If you are struggling to fit everything into one day, spread it over Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. Children love the idea of having two Christmases!
- Embrace making new traditions with your children. Two households and new family dynamics mean that change is likely – celebrate it, don’t fear it!
- Limit handovers where possible. Travelling back and forth between parents can decrease the quality time spent with parents and extended family.
- Give a little. If you’re arguing over an hour difference that really doesn’t affect the children’s happiness, think to yourself, does it matter in the grand scheme of things?
- Don’t compete with the other parent. It is not about what is fair for the parents, it is about what is in the best interests of children. Allow children to take their presents to the other parent’s house and enjoy them there too.
- Be mindful of age and maturity. As children grow older, give them some input and control over the process.
- Do not expose children to the dispute. Children don’t need the added stress of feeling like they are the cause of friction.
- Once you have agreement, tell your children the plan. Knowing what is happening in advance creates a much needed sense of security.
Sorting out your Christmas parenting arrangements
Of course, we know that jointly made decisions are not always possible after separation. Emotions are high during holiday periods, particularly when it involves families diverging from their familiar holiday traditions. This dynamic can make a calm and well considered conversation difficult to achieve.
If you feel Family Court intervention is the only option, we recommend that you seek legal advice quickly. Although it may appear you have months up your sleeve, keep in mind.
Before filing a Form 1 Initiating Application for parenting orders, you will usually have to attend Family Dispute Resolution. This requirement will only be waived in extenuating circumstances, such as family violence or urgent matters. Participation in Family Dispute Resolution encourages parents to discuss their issues and reach an agreement without going to Family Court.
If you are in the midst of proceedings, and filing a Form 2 Application in a Case, you will not have to attend Family Dispute Resolution again unless specifically ordered by the Family Court.
Play by the Rules
According to Rule 5.01A of the Family Law Rules 2004, parenting orders applications for the Christmas school holiday period must be filed before 4.00pm on the second Friday in November. That makes this year’s deadline the Friday, 8 November 2019.
Delay, delay, delay
Even if you file your application prior to the deadline, you may not be programmed for a hearing before Christmas. We know from experience that the Family Court of Western Australia is under pressure. While the backlog of cases clear out, family law litigants are experiencing lengthy waiting times of months and sometimes years.