Australia: Party like it's your birthday – Parenting arrangements for special occasions

Working out what arrangements should be included in Orders and the Court finds acceptable for your children can be confusing. Generally, there is understanding that arrangements for special occasions should be reciprocal (children spend the same amount of time with both of you) should it be reasonably practical and in the best interests of your children.

Your Child's Birthday

If you and the other parent live close by, then birthdays are often shared. For example, if your child's birthday falls on a weekend or a non school day, they may spend time between 9:00am and 1:00pm with you and from 1:00pm to 6:00pm with the other parent, alternating each year.

Things get trickier when your child starts school, and their birthday falls on a school day. In this case, Orders can be made for your child to spend time with the parent who is not the primary care giver for several hours in the afternoon, or to spend extra time with them on the weekend after their birthday.

Research suggests that children prefer celebrating two special occasions, one with each parent, so they have fewer changeovers. This has been adopted by some Judges, who have indicated that children should spend time with the parent who is their primary care giver on their birthday, and then have a "second birthday" when they next see their other parent. This can be difficult for the parent spending a smaller amount of time with the child however it does allow your child to share a whole day with each of you.

It's your Birthday

The arrangements for your birthdays are similar to that of your child's. If your birthday falls on a school day, then the Court will often make an Order for time to be spent with them after school or overnight if suitable. Likewise, if it is a weekend or a non school day, arrangements can be made for children to spend the whole day with the parent whose birthday it is.

Christmas/Easter/Other Religious Holidays

If you and the other parent would ordinarily celebrate the occasion, and there are other family obligations involved, the Court will often Order you to share the occasions (with arrangements alternating each year). For example, over Christmas, you may spend time with the children from 2:00pm Christmas Eve to 2:00pm Christmas Day and the other parent may have your children from 2:00pm Christmas Day to 2:00pm Boxing Day. You would swap the following year, allowing both of you to experience Christmas morning with your children each alternate year, and to organise family obligations so they can spend time with each of you, and your extended families, on that occasion.

I have seen several matters where parents celebrate various special occasions on different days. In these circumstances, the Court may make specific arrangements for the children to spend those set periods of time with each of the parents, and for any other time to be shared.
There are also rare occasions where parents have different faiths and celebrate different special occasions each year, such as Greek Orthodox Easter and Ramadan. The Court will generally find that it is in the best interests of your children to experience those occasions with each of you and specific arrangements will be made accordingly.

Sometimes geography, poor communication, or sometimes simply the preference of particular Judges, means that shared special occasions aren't possible. In this instance, children will usually spend that alternating occasion with each of you - for example, Christmas with one of you and Easter with the other, and reversing the occasions the following year.

Mother's Day/Father's Day

It is generally acknowledged that children should spend Mother's Day and Father's Day with their relevant parent. There can be Orders to the effect that the children will spend time with the relevant parent during certain hours, depending on what family traditions have been in place, and what each of your proposals are.

What happens when Special Occasions Conflict?

Sometimes a birthday can conflict with another special occasion such as Christmas. When clashes occur, it's important for any arrangements to set out specifically what special occasion takes preference. For example, if the father's birthday occasionally falls on Mother's Day, specific orders can be drafted to say that the children spend time with their mother on Mother's Day each year, except when the father's birthday falls on Mother's Day, in which case they'll spend time with their father on the day. It can however be very confusing for parents to try and make arrangements for the children if these conflicts are not foreseen and catered for within the Orders, particularly if communication between the parties is difficult.


The above examples are a guide only. Each matter depends upon its individual facts and there are no hard and fast rules or laws for dealing with special occasions. They can be as broad or as specific as needed and there is essentially no precedent as to how these arrangements should be organised. It depends upon the traditions that have been in place in the family (both before and after separation) and the preferences of the parties as to how they wish to make arrangements for the children. Making arrangements for special occasions however can be complex and you should speak to a family lawyer about how these arrangements can, and will, work in practice.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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