Navigating care arrangements for children during the festive season can be an emotional and challenging task for parents going through a separation. With Christmas just around the corner, it is crucial to address care arrangements for your children during the holiday season promptly. By doing this, you can contribute to creating a positive and stable holiday period for your children.
Reaching a mutual agreement
You and the other parent should attempt to reach a mutual agreement regarding the time that your children will spend with each of you, particularly on special occasions like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and the school holiday period in general.
When discussing and negotiating these arrangements, it is important that you prioritise and remain focused on what is in the children's best interests. If an agreement is reached, it is important to document this in writing (such as a text message or email).
Documenting this agreement – Parenting Plan
If you have concerns that the other parent will attempt to alter arrangements, or fail to comply with the mutual agreements made, or you would simply like more certainty, you may consider entering into a Parenting Plan to document the arrangements for the holiday period.
A Parenting Plan is a simply written document dealing with the parenting of a child or children which is signed by both parents with a date documented. Although a parenting plan is not a legally binding document, it is an informal agreement that can provide clarity and certainty for each parent. A Court asked to make decisions about parenting arrangements will also take the terms of any parenting plan into account when assessing the best interests of the children.
This plan can clearly outline the agreed dates and times that each parent will spend with the children, including any arrangements on special occasions within the Christmas/summer holiday period.
There are also several other matters that you can include in a Parenting Plan such as:
- Handover locations;
- Guidelines for telephone contact between parents and children;
- The form of communication between you and the other parent;
- The process to be used for resolving disputes about the arrangements and;
- The process for changing the plan in the future.
We recommend that you consider obtaining legal advice before signing a Parenting Plan or to assist you with preparing one.
What if we are unable to reach an agreement?
Negotiations through legal representatives
If you are unable to reach an agreement with the other parent, you may wish to engage a lawyer to assist you with negotiations.
They can write a letter to the other parent or their legal representative putting forward a proposal or negotiate on your behalf.
If an agreement is then reached, your lawyer can prepare a Parenting Plan to be signed by you and the other parent prior to the holiday period.
If you are still unable to reach an agreement, you may consider participating in an urgent mediation. This can be done through various government funded organisations or with a private mediator of your choosing.
Mediation can also be lawyer-assisted, wherein each parent is accompanied by their respective lawyers during the process. In this scenario, the lawyers play a role in representing and negotiating on behalf of the parents, while an independent mediator facilitates the entire mediation proceedings. If you choose to participate in a mediation that does not involve legal representation, we recommend that you still obtain legal advice prior to participating. This will assist in providing an understanding of the realistic legal options available. You will also be better equipped to negotiate a fair outcome with the other parent.
With Christmas quickly approaching, it is crucial to promptly inquire with potential mediators and make arrangements if you require a mediation. There is limited availability leading up to the holiday period and taking immediate action will help secure a place and ensure that the process can be initiated without unnecessary delays.
Issuing Court Proceedings
If you are unable to reach an agreement despite ongoing negotiations, you may have no other option but to issue proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
The deadline for filing parenting applications prior to Christmas is 4pm on the second Friday in November each year. Unfortunately, the deadline has now passed.
Unless there is a case of urgency, this means it is unlikely that your matter will be listed before Christmas, even if it relates to the care arrangements for your children over the Christmas and end-of-year school holiday period.
If your matter is urgent, you may apply to the Court to list the matter on short notice. The Court will then have the discretion to assess whether your matter is urgent and whether to list it prior to Christmas.
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.