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Published: 19 December 2018
Author: Adele White

How to get through Christmas as a separated family

Christmas time can prove very difficult for a lot of people, particularly those with complex family situations. Our family and relationship law team has put together some helpful tips for separated families about how to deal with the increased stress of Christmas and where to seek help if you need it.

1. Communication is key

Not everything runs smoothly over the Christmas period. Increased traffic on the roads, engagements that run over time and last-minute changes of plan are all part and parcel of the December rush.

Try to keep an open and flexible mind when communicating with your co-parent if these issues do arise.

One of the most important things to do when plans change suddenly is to give your co-parent as much notice as possible; whether that be by email, text or a phone call. If you are the parent on the receiving end of that communication it’s important that you try and accommodate these changes as best you can, keeping in mind that they are often unavoidable.

This will help minimise any stress, panic or confusion that might otherwise be had.

2. Keep calm during changeover

It is very common that children of separated families will spend time with both parents over the Christmas period. Many of those families will have court orders or some other arrangement in place that specifies when, where and at what time changeover is to occur.

If you don’t have an arrangement of this sort in place, it is very important to come up with a plan well ahead of time. Planning changeover will help manage the expectations of both parents and children and help to minimise tension and confusion.

Some very common choices for changeover locations include cafes, shopping centres, train stations, and even police stations. These types of locations are usually easy for both parents to navigate to, can be found somewhere halfway between each parent’s house and provide a space where there are other people around.

Once you and your co-parent have agreed on a plan, it’s important to work out logistics. Think about things like how long it will take for you to get to the allocated place, who will bring snacks and water for the kids if it’s a long drive and whether the kids need any other comforts, for example, a favourite toy.

When arriving at changeover it’s so important for the kids that this space remains a conflict-free zone. Children being exposed to fighting between their parents is shown to have lasting psychological effects. If you feel it is likely that you will be unable to see your ex-partner without engaging in either a verbal or physical conflict it is important to plan an alternative. One option is to ask a trusted family member or friend, for example, a grandparent, to pick up or drop off the kids for you. If this is what you decide is best, it’s important that this is communicated to both your co-parent and the kids to ensure that everyone is comfortable and aware of the situation.

3. Your safety and the safety of the children should be the first priority

Christmas time is, unfortunately, a time of increased risk of family violence for many Victorians.

Each day in Victoria there is a devastating number of incidents of family violence, and sadly, the financial and emotional stress of the Christmas period means that these incidents don’t stop.

If you feel your safety is in immediate danger always call Victoria Police on 000.

If you have a family violence Intervention Order in place, it is important that you try and keep a copy of it with you at all times. We would suggest that you read through your Intervention Order and remind yourself of what exactly the order prohibits the Respondent from doing. If the Respondent breaches any of the Orders it is important that you report it to your local police station as soon as possible, no matter how minor the breach may feel.

We also suggest keeping a diary of any breaches that are made, particularly, if you are unable to get to or phone a police station over this period.

If you would like further information about strategies to cope with issues surrounding family violence, please refer to our family violence resource guide, Pathways to Change.

4. Where to get help if you need it

Unfortunately, a number of services, including legal services, close down over the Christmas period. Our office will be closed from 21 December 2018 and will re-open on 7 January 2019. If you require legal assistance throughout this period you can contact the Family Court National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000. We note they are closed on 25 December 2018, 26 December 2018 and 01 January 2018.

For any concerns regarding your immediate safety or the welfare of the children, always contact Victoria Police on 000.