With under two months till Christmas, the “season to be jolly” can also be the “season for stress” for many people. A lack of time, money, credit card debt and the pressure of having to appear happy in the holiday season can be too much for many relationships.

This time last year, the Today Show and the Sydney Morning Herald reported December 11 to be the most popular day for couples to break up. The date is proven to be the most popular day because people don’t want to keep going through the Christmas period in an unhappy relationship. As the year ends couples break up because they assume that the underlying issues, they had in their relationship would have been fixed by the end of the year and they dread carrying the same issues into a new year. Along with family, social and financial pressure, it’s the perfect recipe for relationship stress and conflict.

Here are some tips on how to navigate the Christmas period with some practical and sensible tips.

1. Think ahead about your Christmas plans

If you’re planning a separation or have already separated but are still resolving children arrangements take some time now to think about how to achieve an amicable arrangement about holidays and finances. Mediators and solicitors are available to assist in urgent matters leading up to Christmas and booking in early is a good idea to have everything resolved, so there is no sudden conflict on Christmas day. Being prepared with your plans and having them made legally binding or drafted can allow everyone to be on the same page. While a Court Order may be difficult to achieve in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a solicitor will be able to guide you through what is needed for a parenting plan. If no arrangements can be reached between the parents leading up to Christmas, keep in mind the cut-off for filing applications is mid-November.

2. Focus on the children

When it comes to children’s arrangements always focus on what will make their day the best day with as minimal stress and interruptions a possible. A solicitor can advise you on some ways that could work for your situation, but there are no hard rules on what arrangements work the best for the Christmas period. Don’t listen to what other friends or family members have done with their arrangements in similar situations. Christmas should be about making the day as magical as possible for the children. Whatever works for your family and the children is what is best.

3. Start new traditions

One of the hardest things for parents who have separated is adjusting to the split time away from the children. Whatever your split of time ends up being, don’t focus on the time away from your children but rather what new traditions you can make when it’s your time with them. If you’re used to opening presents with the kids in the morning, now you can make a special afternoon or evening tradition or make Christmas Eve or Boxing Day more of the focus for your time. While it can be a highly emotional time, your children are more resilient than you give them credit for, and they will adjust and adapt to the new routines.

4. Manage your time effectively

Now that you’ve split with your partner you’ve also split time with family arrangements between two families. Don’t try and fit in every single member of both families and extended families on Christmas day. Not only will you be exhausted but so will your children. Try and arrange different days for different families over the Christmas period so everyone gets to share in the traditions and the children have time with everyone. Talk to family members on how they can also help you and your children start new traditions and help organise new days to celebrate the holiday time. Surrounding yourself with your family and friends can distract you from the lonely times.

5. Don’t worry about the price of gifts

There will always be one parent who is more financially well off than another. Your children won’t care as much about the price tag of gifts but rather about getting something from each of you that came with care and thought. Legally there is no law stopping one parent from spending large amounts more than the other parent. While it can be a source of frustration, if it appears the gift-giving is not equal, this isn’t something that courts will generally write into a court order. It’s best to be the adult and rise above any frustrating feelings and be happy your children are receiving quality gifts.

6. Keep changeovers conflict-free in front of the children

If you believe there is a chance of conflict in front of the children during changeovers or it is likely one parent could be verbally or physically abusive when delivering or collecting the children, you must seek alternative arrangements. Arrangements can be written into a parenting plan and made court-ordered where children may be dropped off to another family member or a public place or depending on the age of the children dropped at the front driveway rather than the front door. It is crucial to minimise any conflict in front of the children. If you feel like you or your children’s safety are at risk, you must take measures to speak to the police or your solicitor about obtaining the appropriate measures of restraining orders. While this is a last resort, your solicitor will be able to give you more advice on your options.

7. Where problems arise, consider mediation as a first option

Mediation is a good solution to be able to reconcile your differences and communicate with a third party who will assist both parties to identify their needs and interests to achieve a favourable outcome. Unless there are very urgent circumstances or there is a significant risk of harm (in which case you can contact the police), you should contact a mediation service in the New Year to arrange for Family Dispute Resolution.

8. Remember what Christmas is really about

Christmas is really about love, family, friendship and remembering how lucky we are. It is not about winning the battle with your ex and being the parent who gives the best gifts or spends the most money or takes the kids to the best theme park or on the best holiday. It is not a competition.

9. Have a plan if things go wrong

Even with the best intentions, communication and early planning, things can still go wrong. Establish a plan B which could incorporate family and friends support in changeovers and calling 000 without delay if you fear for you or your children’s safety.

If you have no formal arrangements for the Christmas period, it is very sensible to meet with a solicitor prior to their last trading day. Here at Wilson Haynes, we’ll be providing our services until the 18th of December.

At Wilson Haynes Law, we can understand the pressures of this time of year and are happy to offer a free, no obligations consult so you can better understand your options. Call us to secure your appointment today.

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