With Christmas fast approaching, how do you manage to get all your Christmas shopping out of the way, figure out who is hosting this year, juggle work commitments, negotiate with your ex-partner on who gets to spend time with the children and when, squeeze in some last minute errands – AND – stay sane?

While it’s of course desirable for separated couples to be able to amicably resolve their parenting arrangements between themselves, this is not always the case. For those of you who may be experiencing a little difficulty on this front, please take comfort in knowing that you are certainly not alone. Here are five top tips on navigating your co-parenting relationship during special occasions.

Accept that you will most likely be unable to spend every single special occasion with your children

When a relationship breaks down, it’s likely to be difficult to adjust to not being able to spend every single Birthday, New Years Day, Easter or Christmas Day with your children. It’s completely understandable that you will want to continue being a part of those special occasions and celebrations, and it’s important to appreciate that your ex-partner will likely feel exactly the same way.

However, in the new circumstances of your separate lives, it ‘s realistic that these special occasions will now have to be shared, and it is certainly in the children’s best interests that they are able to continue sharing and celebrating special occasions with both of their parents. So it’s important that you understand that you may no longer be able to spend all of the special occasions with the children all of the time.

It may be that you now only spend half of the special day with the children, or maybe you spend time with the children on that special day in alternating years. For those of you who are newly separated and possibly spending your first Christmas away from your children – surround yourself with family and friends, make a genuine effort to enjoy some well-deserved “me time”, have a drink or two and rest assured that it will get easier!

Make parenting arrangements well in advance

By ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the upcoming special occasion or holiday, you will effectively cut out any last-minute disputes. There will also be less of a chance for miscommunication if the parenting arrangements are set out in writing. This can either be done between yourselves informally or by way of a “Parenting Plan”, or otherwise you may wish to consider formalising any agreement reached by way of “Consent Orders”.

A common parenting arrangement that we see for special occasions is an “alternating” schedule where say, for example:-

  1. In odd years: you spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the children and your ex-partner spends Boxing Day.
  2. In even years: your ex-partner spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the children and you spend Boxing Day etc.

This way, your children can spend special occasions not only with each parent, but extended members of their family too. Of course, every family is different and what works for others may not work for your individual family. Perhaps your ex-partner has a different cultural background to you which may end up working in everyone’s favour. For example, if there is greater emphasis on celebrating Orthodox Christmas rather than 25 December each year or perhaps the celebrations centre more around Chinese New Year rather than 1 January each year, then both parties can be satisfied. The goal is to find a solution that works for all parties involved – but the paramount consideration needs to be deciding on an arrangement that will be in the children’s best interests. Think about what arrangement will be most suitable to them – would they prefer to spend time with each parent on the same day? Or would the limited time with each parent and changeovers on the special day be too disruptive and difficult for them?

Adopt a child-focussed approach to special occasions

Let’s face it – although special occasions are for spending time with family, at the end of the day, it’s all about your children having fun. Have your discussions around the parenting arrangements away from the children (and out of earshot too). Your children will remember the special times you shared together such as Elf on the Shelf and excitedly waking up to a day of unwrapping presents! Similarly, if they are aware of any parental conflict, they will also remember the days their parents were fighting over them for a particular occasion. Choose wisely.

Determine what your best communication style is

Things go awry when people do not communicate effectively. For example, it makes things difficult if you would prefer having a face to face chat with your ex, but he or she refuses to communicate with you unless it is in writing. Whatever the mode of communication between you two, ensure that your communications with your ex-partner remain respectful and try to keep your emotions in check. If you are communicating with your ex in writing, give yourself some time to reflect on what you have drafted before sending it.  If you find yourself dealing with a high conflict situation, keep your responses brief, informative, friendly and firm.

 Keep calm and participate in Alternative Dispute Resolution

If all else fails and you do not seem to be getting anywhere directly with your ex-partner, consider engaging professional help. There are a range of options to assist you and your ex-partner navigate your post-separation co-parenting relationship. Consider each attending a course such as ‘Parenting after Separation’ run by Relationships Australia NSW or engaging in Mediation. At a Mediation, you can choose to either attend this without any legal representatives present or you can participate in a Legally Assisted Mediation (i.e. with lawyers present).

It’s important to remember that, depending on the ages of your children, you will most likely be co-parenting with your ex-partner for quite a significant amount of time. As such, it is not only in your children’s best interests for you to find a way to communicate effectively with your ex-partner, but it is also in your best interests too. Additionally, whilst lawyers can assist you resolve your immediate dispute, they will not be engaged for the entire duration of your co-parenting relationship. It is ultimately up to you and your ex-partner to find a way forward and work out your “new normal”.

If you, or any of your family or friends, are experiencing a family law issue, Hills Family Law Centre is here to help. We offer an initial, no obligation, consultation with you to discuss your matter. During our initial consultation with you, we take the time to understand your unique situation and provide you with preliminary advice in relation to your rights and obligations under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). We will discuss the various options available to you and provide you with an estimate of anticipated legal costs. You will then be in a position to digest that information and make a well-informed decision about how best to move forward for yourself and your family.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is a general summary and is not intended to be, nor should it be, relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. You should consult a family lawyer to discuss any family law issues you may be experiencing.