7 tips for successfully co-parenting in the school holidays
School holidays and seasonal holidays can be hard for co-parenting families.
By Eve Dougherty, Associate at Australian Family Lawyers, Melbourne.
Our aim at Australian Family Lawyers is for you to have hassle-free, happy holidays with your loved ones. Read on for our best tips for separated families with children to get through the holidays, sanity intact and with a smile on your face.
1. Plan as far ahead in advance as possible
Like the old saying, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin goes, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
This saying can apply to plans for co-parenting in school holidays when they are not made in advance, or significant changes are sought at the last minute.
We suggest that school holiday plans are treated as a high priority and arranged well in advance. Such planning can then try to address factors such as:
- Annual leave to enable you to be more present with your child or children;
- Alternative care arrangements for times that you may be engaged in work or other immovable commitments;
- Special occasions or public holidays that fall during school holiday periods such as birthdays, family events, religious occasions (such as Easter), extra-circular activities etc.;
- Extra-circular activities such as sporting camps, club meetings etc.;
- Even serious or less serious ‘one off’ events such as medical procedures or appointments for the child/ren may fall during school holiday periods.
Factors such as the above can be addressed before the school holiday period commencing, and arrangements can be made to cater for these things. It is more likely that these factors can turn into issues if raised at the last minute. We acknowledge that sometimes things arise at the last minute but giving as much notice as possible is generally a good ‘rule of thumb.’
Consulting with an experienced family lawyer can be a way to get in front of factors that may turn into child custody issues during school holidays. We can assist you in brainstorming solutions, alternative options and proposals. We can also help you implement and formalise any agreements or solutions into a holiday Parenting Plan or an Application for Consent Orders.
If an agreement cannot be reached, then we can assist you with other alternatives.
2. Focus on the best outcome for your child
It is easy for parents first to consider their feelings and memories when considering co-parenting in the school holidays. This is understandable as most people want to have happy holiday memories to cherish.
However, your main focus for child custody during school holidays should be on the best outcome for your children. If you can achieve the best outcome for your child or children, it is most likely that this will also be the best outcome for you and enable future happy memories.
Further, focusing on the best outcome for your children is in line with the provisions and considerations pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).
Therefore, whenever you are considering and planning for the school holiday periods, make sure you start focusing on ‘what is the best outcome for my children?’
An experienced family lawyer can assist you with this focus and the road map to achieving it.
3. Embrace your child-free time
Missing your child/ren is common. After all, they are generally your main focus in your daily life. The school term periods are busy with school, homework, sport, dancing lessons, swimming lessons, visits to family members, birthday parties… the lists are endless.
So, some child-free time can become a real opportunity. It is not often that you get down-time as a parent or time to focus on yourself and maybe other people in your lives, be that a friend, a family member or a partner.
If you have some child-free time in your holiday parenting plan, why not take 10 minutes to plan something for this time. Maybe there is a new café that you’d like to try or a running track that you’d like to jog or perhaps a book/podcast/movie that can have your attention. Whatever it is, plan it out – pop some well needed ‘self-care time’ into your diary.
It is worth noting that parents who may need to rely upon school holiday care centres or family members to assist in caring for children during co-parenting school holidays are not necessarily going to be stopped from having the children during school holidays, favouring a parent who does not have to work.
4. Be flexible
Sometimes things happen, or plans are changed by factors that are out of your control. Maybe whoever you are co-parenting with has had their annual leave changed, or a family member has flown in from interstate, or perhaps there has been changes to the health of a significant person. Life is often unpredictable.
However, sometimes these changes will result in requests or a need to change the holiday parenting plan or child custody during school holidays.
It is important here that when you face a need to make changes or a request from whomever you co-parent with to make changes, you take a few moments to think and process before you respond. Changes can be frustrating, upsetting or burdensome, especially if needed or sought at the last-minute. However, as mentioned in tip #2, always remember to focus on the best outcome for your child/ren.
If possible and reasonable, be flexible with whomever you are co-parenting with and accommodate each other. Maybe you can swap days or weeks in your holiday parenting plan to better suit each other in a particular holiday period. Maybe you can have the child/ren in your care until later in the afternoon to assist your co-parenting person with changeovers. Maybe you can facilitate the child/ren attending a family event with the other side of their family on a day or evening that they are in your care. Again, the possibilities of need or requested changes are endless.
If you are not sure on changes that are sought, or the changes are sought so frequently or unreasonably that it is causing distress and concern – then speak to an experienced family lawyer well before the next school holiday period so that you can be advised and make changes.
5. Carefully communicate
Communication when co-parenting during the school holidays is very important. It is a way to help ensure that your child/ren’s best interests are met during this time.
You will need to communicate with numerous people from the person(s) such as your co-parent with, your children or a school holiday provider.
These communications can be logistical such as when, where and how changeovers occur or about events such as birthday parties. They can be about expectations such as what you expect to happen if your child/ren are travelling interstate or overseas. They can even be about feelings such as supporting the person(s) you co-parent with or your child/ren with feelings of excitement, concern, longing and so forth.
Linking back to tip 4, maybe you need to communicate why you need to change plans or why you are requesting to change plans.
Whatever it is that you are communicating, do it carefully. Consider things such as:
- Should this communication happen via phone? Via text? Via email? What do my Court Orders or Parenting Plan say? Do I need to speak to an experienced family lawyer?
- When is a good time to speak to the other person?
- What information will they need? Do I have this handy?
- What impact may this have on them? How can I support them?
- What impact may this have on the child/ren? How can we support them?
If you communicate in the best way possible, you increase your chances of receiving the best possible communication back.
Check out some ideas and recommendations on co-parenting apps that will help you manage communication.
6. Create new opportunities/family habits or traditions
Child custody during school holidays creates an opportunity to do things differently with your child/ren.
These opportunities can be simple things such as a new habit of having a movie night on the first night of school holidays or visiting the local museum to see the latest exhibition.
Alternatively, they may be things such as re-arranging traditions such as opening presents on Christmas morning to a new time that fits in with your arrangements in your holiday parenting plan or Court Orders. Be creative and make it fun – let Santa make several trips, for example, to keep that tradition going.
Embrace the opportunities that your holiday parenting plan or Court Orders present rather than focusing on the things that may change. See the silver lining in new opportunities and adventures with your child/ren during co-parenting school holidays.
However, if your traditions cannot be adapted due to cultural, religious or family significance, consider seeking advice from a family lawyer on obtaining a holiday parenting plan or Court Orders that shares these occasions or alternates them each year or occasion.
7. Establish boundaries
When you are co-parenting in the school holidays, you should consider establishing some boundaries. These boundaries might include how much screen time your child/ren have, their bedtime, what activities you feel are appropriate for them to do, and so forth.
You may wish to communicate with whomever you are co-parenting with about these boundaries and communicate if there are issues from inconstancies.
However, it is important to remember that people do parent differently at times. Focus on your child/ren’s best interests and whether the issues you are experiencing affect their best interests being achieved.
If you are experiencing difficulties in boundaries with co-parenting in the school holidays, then speak to an experienced family lawyer sooner rather than later so they can advise you on whether the issues fall under parental responsibility provisions or not. They can then advise you on if there are options to address the issues that you are facing.
At Australian Family Lawyers, our sincere wish is that separated families can enjoy peaceful, fun and productive school holiday periods together and apart. If you have concerns or queries about co-parenting and enjoying school holiday and special holiday periods, please contact us via the form below.
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