Enjoying Christmas and Other Family Celebrations After Separation

For most of us, Christmas is a happy time, a time when families and friends get together to swap presents and stories, share meals and homes and generally enjoy each other’s company.

However, for some families with separated parents, Christmas can be a time of sadness, disappointment and disagreement and caught in the middle of it, are the children. Trying to cram two celebrations into one day, even when you live in close proximity to your former partner, can lead to mounting tensions and frayed nerves.

It can be particularly tough trying to reach agreement with your ex-partner about how your children will spend special occasions, like Christmas, each year.

What might help?


Remain child focussed

First and foremost it is important to be open minded and embrace marking these celebrations in different ways. In all separations where children are involved the paramount principle is determining what is in their best interests. When deciding how to provide for special occasions in family law matters it is important to really place the children’s interests first.

As children get older their wishes become more important. If your children love spending time with their cousins on Christmas night then, even after separation, it is important that you do all things possible so as to make that happen. If there is a history of an Easter egg hunt at Nanny’s home, then try not to make arrangements so that they will miss out on that fun. Make plans that will work for them and make your children’s happiness your priority when making any plans.


Be flexible in your thinking

Not only do plans for special occasions need to be very child focussed, they also need to be flexible. Not all family celebrations are set in stone from year to year. It usually works best if you try to accommodate these arrangements to ensure that your children enjoy the best that each of you and your respective extended families can offer.

After separation some families choose to alternate occasions each year. In even numbered years Christmas might be spent with Mum and Easter with Dad and then in odd numbered years the children will spend Christmas with Dad and Easter with Mum. Other families decide to “split” these special occasions so that the children can spend some time with both Mum and Dad each year. This can work well for families who live in very close proximity of each other. Otherwise it can be disastrous, especially for the children…sitting in a car for two or more hours on Christmas Day is simply not their idea of fun and remember it’s really about them.


Create new traditions

Also, remember that special occasions are special because you make them special…when couples separate it may be time to think about creating new traditions. If your children will be with the other parent on Christmas Day, consider creating a Christmas Eve celebration. If your children are with the other parent at Easter time invent a new Anzac Day tradition of picnics or trips out. You can even see fireworks on Darling Harbour on a Saturday night if you want to organise your own child-friendly mid-year New Year’s Eve celebration!

There is a good chance that you will find everything you need in your local shopping centre to quickly make that party happen. Because Australians love a celebration, you can almost guarantee that you will be able to find party gear for almost any public holiday which certainly makes it easier to “get into the spirit” and really celebrate with your children. Make sure to get photos or keepsakes of your celebration so you can remember and have real records of the happy times spent with your children in years to come.


Be clear and certain about arrangements

Reaching agreement with your ex-spouse about any matter can be difficult. Special occasions can bring even greater angst.

If you do not want to get lawyers involved, then you could try to negotiate with the other parent either by yourself or with the assistance of a mediator. Should you take this approach, then you should be mindful of the following when communicating with one another:

  1. Try and come up with a plan ahead of time – Whilst Court Orders are often preferable (given their enforceability), sometimes a parenting plan or a written proposal to the other parent is a helpful way to minimise potential conflict for both parents and more importantly for the children.
  2. Make sure you know where you stand legally – Under the Family Court system, there is no entitlement to an equal division of time for Christmas holidays. Instead, each case is determined on the individual circumstances.


Keep the channels of communication open

Finally, none of these tips on their own are likely to achieve success. It is critical that you learn to communicate with your ex-spouse (even if that is just by way of email or text) so that everybody understands what arrangements are in place and what is expected of them, and nobody, most importantly the children, are disappointed.

To recap, some helpful suggestions to ensure you reignite the “celebration” in your celebrations after separation:

  1. Remain child focussed with plans.
  2. Be flexible in your thinking.
  3. Create new traditions.
  4. Be clear and certain about arrangements.
  5. Keep the channels of communication open.


Don’t forget that Christmas also symbolises new birth and new beginnings. Coming just on the tail end of Christmas is a brand-new year and all that represents.

In family law matters, especially when considering special occasions, reminding yourself about the message of “new beginnings” can help you adjust to the necessary changes that separation brings and ensure that you and your family continue to celebrate and enjoy special occasions for many years to come.


Help is available


Despite your best efforts and doing everything in your power, your ex-partner may still not cooperate. If you find yourself in this situation, always remember that help is available.

If you try to negotiate with the other parent without the assistance of a solicitor or third party and it is unsuccessful, do not give up. Instead, try and engage with either a counsellor, a family law mediator or consider engaging a parenting co-ordinator, who can assist both you and the other parent in reaching an agreement. By having an experienced mediator or counsellor present it may assist both parents to remain focused on the children and can assist in reaching fair agreement which benefits the children.

Communication is the key. Start communicating well ahead of time and keep your children’s happiness as your priority and you will have made a good start to a happier Christmas.

If you are experiencing a separation or considering separating in the new year, contact us on (02) 9437 0010 or enquiries@familylawyersdw.com.au. We are conveniently located in St Leonards on Sydney’s Lower North Shore and offer face-to-face, zoom meeting or telephone consultations.


Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers – Moving on with Confidence

Your local North Shore and Northern Beaches family law specialists based in St Leonards, here to guide you through the complex emotional and financial challenges of separation and divorce.



About the Authors

Lisa Wagner is Managing Director and Principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Lisa is an Accredited Family Law specialist, a Collaboratively trained Family Lawyer, Parenting Coordinator and a nationally registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. Lisa has close to 30 years’ experience as a specialist family lawyer, experienced litigator and skilful negotiator in all family law matters.

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Sara Arnold is an Associate at Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Sara holds a Bachelor of Law and a Bachelor of Business Management and is currently completing her Master of Laws (Family Law). Sara is experienced in providing advice in respect of property and parenting matters, as well as more complex matters involving Hague Convention Applications and relocation.

In additional to practising family law, Sara is an experienced legal practitioner and has also undertaken legal work in commercial litigation. Sara’s commercial background compliments her practising as a family lawyer, allowing her to identify various issues and provide the most practical and cost-effective solutions and advice for her clients in respect of settlements involving businesses as well as other financial matters.

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These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.


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