Traditionally, the Christmas school holiday period is a busy time for both family law practitioners and the Family Courts. The reasons for this may include the fact that any cracks in the relationship are often more obvious around Christmas time and for families who have separated there may be conflict regarding children’s care arrangements over the Christmas and school holiday time. Another factor may, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald, be that the youngest child has now completed their Higher School Certificate and for many women this is the opportune time to separate.
Any separation, irrespective of the ages of children, is stressful for parents, extended family members and of course the children themselves. Research shows that whilst parental separation is stressful for children, children will be able to manage the change in their living arrangements. Where children have difficulty managing is if there is ongoing conflict between parents. Parental conflict commonly takes two forms, that is, where parents verbally abuse each other, put down the other parent directly to the children or in the children’s presence, make the other parent’s time with the children difficult in that the children are not “allowed” to see the other parent or speak with them, and involving the children in other related aspects of the relationship breakdown such as child support and the property settlement. Alternatively, parents fail to speak with each other at all and the cold war begins. Where these practices continue, children are at risk of doing poorly at school, psychologically and emotionally.
To avoid or work towards breaking this pattern of behaviour, both parents should obtain legal advice about how family law works and in particular their rights and responsibilities under the Family Law Act as parents. There are organisations available at modest to no cost for families, including Relationships Australia, Centrecare, Unifam, the Government-run Family Relationship Centres, and private counsellors who have experienced mediators to help parents discuss their children’s care needs and work towards reaching agreement so that as parents they can continue to meet those needs. These strategies will work for the majority of families where there are no significant risk factors and safety concerns such as where a parent engages in regular substance or alcohol abuse.