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Newly separated and divorced parents are being urged to plan ahead this holiday season and work together to ensure a happy break for their children.
Slater and Gordon Family Law expert Heather McKinnon said the first holiday season after a separation or divorce was often difficult and families needed to plan ahead with the best interest of the children in mind.
“Each year in Australia well over 40,000 divorces are granted and the holidays can be extremely difficult for those families because often feelings are still raw and the arrangements are new,” Ms McKinnon said.
“The Family Law Act focuses on the best interests of the child. It is the child’s rights that are set out under the Act, not the parents - so parents don’t have the right to see their children, but children have the right to spend substantial and significant time with both their parents and this is the case year round.
“Every year we see clients getting anxious and worried about the holiday season for a variety of reasons. Unless there are safety concerns, the best advice we can give is to review any court orders, communicate clearly and manage expectations.
“The unfortunate reality is that unless parents are happy to celebrate events such as Christmas Day together, they won’t both get to spend the whole day with the children.
“Some thought can be given to ways to adapt family traditions and to holding new celebrations on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, for example, as a way to ensure everybody gets to take part.
“Whatever plan parents agree on should be clearly communicated to children and other family members.”
Tips for a conflict free season include:
- Making sure your holiday plans are clear and agreed to by both parents – write them down if necessary;
- Separating any feelings of guilt and loss from the needs of the children to see their other parent;
- Seeking counselling if you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed; and
- Reviewing any court orders to make sure your plans comply, particularly if you plan to travel interstate or overseas.
“Parents often feel guilty that they can’t lavish their children with expensive gifts because of post-separation financial pressures, but what we see from our clients is that children care much more about time with both their parents than money.”