With the Christmas holiday season quickly approaching, now is the time to prepare for the season and ensure your current parenting arrangements are appropriate and agreed by each of the relevant parties.
As family law lawyers, we often see families in distress at this time of year, particularly when trying to make arrangements for children. A family lawyer’s role is to assist the parents (or other parties) to make appropriate arrangements for children, taking into account the particular family situation. This is undertaken with the best interests of the child at the forefront, as required by s60cc of the Family Law Act.

There are some simple steps that can be taken to assist the season to be enjoyable
1. Work out what you believe is best for the children, and do it early. If everyone knows what is required and expected, there is less chance of disputes occurring on or around the special days.

2. Remember that parents don’t have rights. The children have the right to spend meaningful time with both parents (provided they are safe and protected from harm). This does not always mean a child will see a parent every Christmas. As each family has different needs, distances to travel, and other matters to consider, it is really about what suits your family and how that can work best for the children.

3. Ensure that the telephone/skype or webcam arrangements that you believe should happen have been agreed to. Often with people travelling may have different requirements for such communication, however with the invent of mobile telephones this is not as much of an issue generally as it has been in the past.

4. It is very important if you have concerns for safety or that you feel the child is not going to be returned, that you seek legal advice as soon as you can – prior to it happening if possible. There are more children that are not returned or are not handed over around this time of year than any other time of year. To complicate matters further the Courts and most legal offices have time off over the Christmas break period. If you have concerns talk to us to have a plan put in place prior to the holiday.

5. Seek consent early to passport applications and overseas travel early if you are hoping to travel outside of Australia with your child over the holidays. If there are issues or consent is not forthcoming, you are certainly able to seek advice as to what steps are available to you to still seek to obtain a passport.

6. If you are concerned the other party is going to take the child outside of Australia, and you have worries about this, we can also assist, and again, this is much easier to assist with prior to the travel occurring if possible

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember it is the children’s best interests to not be exposed to conflict within a family at any time. If arrangements can be made early, the situation may not reach the level of conflict it can, if the arrangements are being made at the last minute.

The holiday period can also be a time where people involved with children are drinking more alcohol, going to more events, and there can be an increase (at times) in domestic violence. Domestic violence can be aggressive or threatening text messages, angry or aggressive verbal communications, and can be any situation that causes you to feel threatened or harassed. If you feel concerned, don’t hesitate to call Police if the situation is urgent, or otherwise talk to your family lawyer.

If you are unlucky enough to experience other difficulties over the Christmas period, contact your family lawyer as soon as you can. It is very important to move quickly, particularly if a child has not been returned. It is not a fast process usually, so the sooner you seek legal advice the quicker (generally) you can see a result. Ensure you bring to your appointment copies of Orders, parenting plans, agreements, tickets, travel documents, or anything else you believe may be relevant for your matter.

We wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.