So you are separated and you are approaching your first family Christmas post separation. Are you approaching it with dread or have you managed the art of being a family in a post separation landscape?
As family lawyers, we don’t have a magic wand to make things better if they are truly bad. Sometimes time heals family wounds and sometimes nothing works as a balm to mend damaged hearts and severed relationships. If you are in one of these bad separations, you will need legal advice and the care of a professional team (which may include some form of counselling or family therapy).
For those who have not yet ended up communicating via their lawyers, what we can offer are insights into how best to avoid the very worst of ways to separate.
If you are separated and things aren’t too bad between you and your ex but you have not been able to navigate your way through the parenting agreements necessary to make your family work, then you are going to need a little help. Ideally the process of who is spending what time with the kids and where over Christmas, started much earlier in the year. A parenting dispute over Christmas is a sure fire way to ruin Christmas for your kids and it is a painful and expensive process for the parents.
A more prudent way to manage this issue is with some professional legal advice and some assistance from a trained and experienced mediator or family dispute resolution practitioner. If they have also had a wealth of experience as a lawyer in the Court system, then they will understand what can and cannot be accomplished in the lead up to Christmas given the demands in the Court lists. They can provide insights as to what might work in your family’s situation and what is unlikely to be agreed to by the Court. You need to think about how best to work with your ex to benefit your family as a whole, not just what is convenient for you.
Only in exceptional circumstances can you go to Court in relation to issues involving your children without first trying mediation. So it is prudent to think about how might you be able to co-operate and resolve any area of dispute and failing which, how to make the most of mediation.
The following are some tips (not legal advice) about how you might be able to avoid the pitfalls of going to Court.
Think about Christmas from your kids’ perspective, not yours and not your ex. This means working together as parents to come up with ideas which are truly focussed on your kids. It is often a difficult time of the year as everyone seems tired and irritable. Think creatively about how you can work together to minimise the stress of this time of year on you both as well as the children.
Just because your family has always done a given thing at Christmas, it doesn’t mean that it is right for this year. A Christmas tradition can be picked up again and a break may make all realise how important that tradition really is.
Think about how you and your ex can reach agreement about what might work for your family. Start by asking your ex about their ideas for Christmas. When they give you those ideas – be prepared to entertain some of those ideas. Do not dismiss those ideas out of hand. Some of those ideas might relate to Christmas day or Christmas holidays and who is taking the kids where.
If an idea is presented and you want to know more, then ask the curious question but with respect nor contempt. Contempt can be conveyed in a gesture, a text message, a look. So check your behaviours and your method and tone of communication. If needs be, sleep on an email or text overnight before sending it. If you end up in Court, this can be shown to a judge so imagine what a third person might think if they read it.
Don’t insist on a given arrangement if you know it is something your ex has always struggled with. Think about letting go of an arrangement and instead entertain something new. Your family is in a new phase so why not entertain a new idea.
Kids are kids for a blink of time, so unless a proposal is against the best interests of your children, rather than fight about it, imagine agreeing to the proposal and adding to it to make it as successful as possible. Suggest an alternating scenario in subsequent years to achieve a more equitable outcome for all – not just you.
Think about combining parenting efforts when it comes to the exhausting tasks that the family has to attend to ahead of Christmas. Work out what the kids want to do and who is best positioned to make that happen. Myer windows, visiting Santa, buying presents. You need not go it alone if you have the good will of the other parent.
Talk about present giving. Think about ensuring you buy the kids a present to give the other parent. And ensure the other parent does likewise.
Buying a better quality present (does not mean the same as monetary value) for your kids by combining your resources – including collective thinking!
If things are getting rocky, ensure you have a strategy for dealing with conflict ahead of time. This can be a code word that you have agreed up ahead of time. Agree that you are allowed to say to each other that you can’t discuss something but need time to think about it.
Accredited Family Law Specialist, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, Collaborative Professional
Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers would like to thank all of their clients for their patronage this Christmas and wish all families (separated or otherwise) a peaceful Christmas.
Our offices will be closed from 4:00pm 22 December 2017 and will reopen on 2 January 2018 at 9:00 am.