School holidays, Christmas, and borders reopening – this can be a stressful time of the year for separated parents. Negotiating school holidays with your former partner can be difficult following separation or divorce and it is important to ensure that children can spend time with extended family members on both sides. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Lawyer, Laura Dolan, explains how separated families can resolve disputes and avoid parenting arrangement issues over the holidays.
School holidays can be a cause of contention between divorced or separated parents. With school out for several months, it is imperative that co-parents decide how the kids will spend this time sooner rather than later. Holiday custody should be decided when co-parents are working out the rest of their parenting arrangements, but with so much to think about during that time, school holidays can easily be looked over. There are many strategies parents can utilise to avoid issues arising during the holidays.
1. Plan as far ahead in advance as possible
School holiday plans should be considered a high priority and organised well in advance. Such planning can then address factors such as:
- Annual leave from work to enable you to be more present with your child or children
- Alternative care arrangements for times that you may be engaged in work or other immovable commitments
- Special occasions or public holidays that fall during school holiday periods such as birthdays, family events, religious occasions etc.
- Extra-circular activities such as sporting camps, club meetings, Christmas concerts etc.
- Even serious or less serious ‘one off’ events such as medical procedures or appointments for the child/ren may fall during school holiday periods. This can often be a time many parents try to schedule in that annual dental clean or other medical appointments that can be difficult to schedule during the usual school and work routines.
Factors such as the above can be addressed before the school holiday period commences, and arrangements can be made to cater for these things so that disputes do not arise. It is more likely that these factors can turn into issues if raised at the last minute. Of course, sometimes it can be unavoidable for last minute things to pop up but giving as much notice as possible is generally a good ‘rule of thumb.’
If you need to negotiate parenting orders or parenting plans in the lead up to Christmas, consulting with an experienced family lawyer can be a way to get in front of factors that may turn into child custody issues or disputes during school holidays.
2. Focus on the best outcome for your child
It is easy for parents to consider their own feelings when negotiating co-parenting arrangements for the school holidays. This is understandable as most people want to create happy holiday memories to cherish and want to spend as much time with their children during what is meant to be a time for family.
However, your focus for child custody during school holidays should be on the best outcome for your children. If you can achieve the best outcome for your child or children, it is most likely that this will also be the best outcome for you and enable future happy memories and amicable co-parenting. In line with the provisions and considerations of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the Court ensures that the child’s best interest is paramount.
Therefore, when you are considering and planning for the school holiday periods, make sure you ask yourself ‘what is in the best interest of my child/ren?’
An experienced family lawyer can assist you with this focus and help you set the road map to achieving it.
3. Be flexible
Sometimes things happen, or plans are changed by factors that are out of your control. Occasionally these changes will result in requests or a need to change the holiday parenting plan or child custody during school holidays.
It is important that when you need to make changes to an agreed upon plan, or a request from whomever you co-parent with to make changes, you take a few moments to think and process before you respond. Changes can be frustrating, upsetting, or burdensome, especially if needed or sought at the last-minute. Always remember to focus on the best interest for your child/ren.
If you are not sure on changes that are sought, or you believe the changes being requested are unreasonable and that it is only going to cause distress and concern to you and your children – then speak to an experienced family lawyer well before the next school holiday period so that you can get help to negotiate the arrangements and put forward a more suitable plan that will work for all parties.
5. Carefully communicate
Communication when co-parenting during the school holidays is very important. It is a way to help ensure that your child/ren’s best interests are met during this time. We understand that not all separated parents are able to openly communicate with one another.
However, when there are numerous people that may be involved in caring for your children over the Christmas period, including vacation care providers and extended family, it is important to set clear expectations and ensure there is a way that all parties know who the contact should be for the child and in what circumstances. These communications can be logistical such as when, where, and how changeovers occur or about events such as birthday parties. They can be about expectations such as what you expect to happen if your child/ren are travelling interstate or overseas or if the child becomes unwell. They can even be about feelings such as supporting the person(s) you co-parent with or your child/ren with feelings.
If you communicate in the best way possible, you increase your chances of receiving the best possible communication back.
6. Create new opportunities/family habits or traditions
Child custody during school holidays creates an opportunity to do things differently with your child/ren. These opportunities can be simple things such as a new habit of having a movie night on the first night of school holidays or visiting the local museum to see the latest exhibition.
Embrace the opportunities that your holiday parenting plan or Court Orders present rather than focusing on the restrictions they may impose. However, if your traditions cannot be adapted due to cultural, religious, or family significance, consider seeking advice from a family lawyer on obtaining a holiday parenting plan or Court Orders that shares these occasions or alternates them each year or occasion.
7. Establish boundaries
When you are co-parenting in the school holidays, you should consider establishing some boundaries. These boundaries might include how much screen time your child/ren have, their bedtime, what activities you feel are appropriate for them to do, and so forth.
You may wish to communicate with whomever you are co-parenting with about these boundaries and communicate if there are issues from inconsistencies.
However, it is important to remember that people do parent differently. Focus on your child/ren’s best interests and whether the issues you are experiencing affect their best interests being achieved.
If you are experiencing difficulties in boundaries with co-parenting in the school holidays, then speak to an experienced family lawyer sooner rather than later so they can advise you on whether the issues fall under parental responsibility provisions or not. They can then advise you on if there are options to address the issues that you are facing.
What to do when issues arise and cannot be resolved
Even when co-parents have the best intentions and employ strategies to avoid issues occurring, problems still arise and sometimes they cannot be resolved without legal recourse.
A Parenting Plan is a voluntary agreement that outlines which days your children will spend with each parent. Under Section 63C of the Family Law Act 1975, the Parenting Plan must be written and signed by both parents. It can also be revised at any time if both parents agree to the changes. Parents should consider a parenting plan if they can freely communicate about any issues regarding their child/children, or they are after a more structured co-parenting style.
It is usually a more simple and affordable solution to a parenting order; however, it is not legally enforceable. What this means is that if one parent does not follow through with what is agreed to in the parenting plan, they cannot be held accountable legally. A significant level of trust and respect from both parents is required to ensure the agreement is honoured and disputes do not arise in the future.
If parents are unable to agree on a set of arrangements, then a parenting order can be made by a court.
A Parenting Order is a set of parenting agreements for a child, and parents are legally obliged to do what is stated in the order. Under Section 64B of the Family Law Act 1975, an order may deal with any of the following:
- Who your child/children will live with?
- The time spent with each parent on significant holidays, for instance, Christmas, public holidays, birthdays, and school holidays
- How the child will communicate with the parent they are not living with, for example: 5:00pm every day for 30 mins via FaceTime or telephone
- The school the child will attend
- Any other relevant aspect that may affect the welfare, care, and influence of the child
This order will remain in place until a new order, or any changes are made.
Setting out arrangements based on special holidays is very common in a parenting order or parenting plan.
For instance, during the summer school holidays, orders will usually outline who the child will live with and for how long, or if the child will travel to visit one of their parents, and who else they may spend time with during this visit. There should be no presumption from both parents that the school holidays will be shared equally. As outlined in s60CC of the Family Law Act 1975, the court will always consider what is in the best interests of the child.
A parenting order may also outline an alternating schedule for special holidays like Christmas. For example, the child may spend Christmas with their mother on even years and father on odd years.
Summer holidays in Australia are a popular time to travel, especially now that the borders are reopening. If one parent wishes to take their child/children on an overseas holiday, they must first obtain the consent from the other parent, and then outline any arrangements in the parenting order or plan. Usually, the parent intending to travel with the child/children must give a reasonable amount of notice of the intended travel plans and details. This notice period should be outlined in the parenting order or plan. If a parent refuses to consent to any travel, the other parent may apply for Court Orders. The court must receive the full details of the intended travel, including dates, destinations, and contact details, before deciding. The court may also request a security bond which must be paid to ensure the child is returned to Australia by the outlined date. Once all conditions are met and the court is satisfied that any travel is in the child’s best interests, permission may be granted.
In cases where a parent is concerned about their child’s safety, they may seek a Court Order preventing them from travelling by outlining their reasons in an affidavit. This order can either prevent a child’s passport from being issued or prevent a child from leaving Australia. If you fear that your child/children will be taken out of the country regardless of not offering your consent, please seek urgent legal advice from an experienced family lawyer.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping you negotiate the best parenting arrangement to avoid disputes arising
If you are unsure how to incorporate school holidays and Christmas into your parenting plan or parenting order, we suggest speaking to a family lawyer who can help you negotiate the terms of the arrangement and document the agreement. Our Family Law team are experienced in all children and parenting matters and have the skills and experience to appropriately handle your matter in the best interests of your children.
If you need help with a family law matter, please contact our Family Law Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email email@example.com or call 1800 621 071 at any time.