While Christmas is a time of love and family get togethers, for half the the population it’s about juggling equal time with the kids. With half the country divorced or separated, most of the time someone will miss out on precious time and memories.

I feel for many of my friends and family who have to navigate and negotiate Christmas eve, or Christmas morning, or Christmas evening. Some put their differences aside and spend it together for the kids, and others divide the time and spend half of it driving halfway across the state for a drop off. Others, due to bitter break-ups, miss out on their children altogether.

It’s something I hope and pray I never have to worry about, but for those that do, here’s some help and advice to ensure you can have the happiest christmas as possible. When it comes to making arrangements for children at Christmas, Family Law Accredited specialist Kieran McCarthy from Jones McCarty Family Lawyers says it’s important to remember the main aim at Christmas.

“It’s all about the kids,” he says. “Everyone wants the kids to have a great time, to create memories and for those memories to be as happy as possible. That may mean parking rivalries and perceived slights for the time being, because Christmas will roll around again.”

Here are Kieran’s tips for getting the most out of Christmas under trying circumstances.

Step one: Know where you stand

The Family Law Act reminds us the interests of children are paramount.  It’s no different at Christmas – parents should focus on negotiating stress free arrangements for kids rather than asserting “parental rights”.  Finding middle ground can be difficult sometimes, and in those circumstances it is important you seek advice from an accredited Family Law specialist.

Step two: Plan ahead

The smoothest path to a pleasant Christmas is a paved path — so plan ahead. Both parties should work together to create a written document clearly outlining arrangements spelling out your yearly festive plans. That can take the form of a Parenting Plan, or preferably Consent Orders, which are lodged with the Court without the need for going there. If you can’t do it alone, invest in the help of the professionals. See your solicitor before embarking on mediation. Trained mediators can then help you reach agreement — Relationships Australia provides a free service. Plan activities ahead of time and communicate as to what they will be to avoid doubling up, and one-upmanship.

Step three: Be reasonable

There’s a danger in over-investing emotionally in one day. Try to alternate events. If the kids wake up at Mum’s this year, then it is Dad’s turn next year. Better still, someone can have Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day morning this year and the other party gets that next year. That way people can enjoy Christmas Day without having to travel frantically, risk the roads or have time cut short. Be reasonable and allow each other to revisit the plan to request changes if need be.

If you have left your run too late to reach agreement on this year, look ahead to Easter or next Christmas. The Courts can’t help you this late in the piece around Christmas arrangements — judges have families too — but they are most anxious to ensure that children have meaningful relationships with both parents. If you missed out this year, you are looking good for the next as a general rule. 

Don’t cruel your prospects for next year, or for a good relationship with your kids, or sympathy from the Court, by turning up at the ex’s house on Christmas Day and creating a scene of Biblical proportions. Nobody likes a dog in the manger, so keeping the party polite is the best way of ensuring that you will be listened to if the other party doesn’t want to share down the track.

Beware the ghosts of Christmas Past!