For many families, Christmas is a happy time of year. But for those who may be newly separated, it can be a time of heartbreak. This leads to the very important question – who gets the children at Christmas? Monica Blizzard, a director of KHQ Lawyers and head of the family and relationship law team, looks at the details.
For young children, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are full of excitement waiting for Santa, and fun filled traditions of preparing for his arrival and leaving treats for him and his reindeers beside the Christmas tree. Knowing that these traditions and the excitement for Christmas may fade over time makes the arrangements over this period something that can be emotional and full of turmoil for many parents, and something that may not be possible to share as a family after separation.
For this reason, it is common for the time to be shared, and alternated between the parents.
In most separated families, time over Christmas and the long summer holiday period is divided equally. Typically, the period between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day is divided between the parents, with one party spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with the children, and the other spending the afternoon of Christmas Day and Boxing Day with them. The typical arrangement will then alternate the time periods, so that the parent who spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the children one year, will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them in the next year.
But what happens if extended family celebrations occur in distant locations? For some families, there may be no alternative but to alternate Christmas celebrations each year to enable the children to spend quality time with one parent and their extended family, who may reside interstate or a significant distance away. This may mean that the parent left behind may need to get creative with their time and organise a celebration with their extended family and friends on another date prior to or following the Christmas holiday period.
When agreement cannot be reached
For many years, the months of November and December were flooded with court applications on behalf of parents who could not reach agreement as to how to divide the holiday period. The Court’s response to this in recent years, was to impose a filing deadline in early November for such applications, with the aim of those discrete hearings being listed in Court prior to 25 December.
However, with the increasing pressure on our Judges due to a significant lack of funding, even the imposed filing deadline has not meant that applications can be dealt with by the Court within that limited period, leaving many families to try and resolve these arrangements by negotiation.