Celebrating holidays (and big family events) after a separation


Between birthdays, Easter, Christmas and all the other milestones throughout the year, it can sometimes feel like there’s something to celebrate every weekend. But when a holiday looms, you may want to consider what arrangements can be made in advance to ensure those big events go as smoothly as possible following separation. The experiences of the team at Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers suggests there are ways to handle these moments so everyone can enjoy the holidays.

Whether you are newly separated or have been separated for some time, if there is no plan in place for a big occasion like Easter or Christmas, it is likely to result in disappointment- not only for you or your ex but more importantly for your children. Celebrating holidays after a separation is a tricky path to navigate.

The Family Law Act makes it clear that when considering parenting orders (and arrangements for special occasions often form part of such orders) the Court is to consider what is in the child’s best interests. Whilst you may not be in court or dealing with lawyers this can be a useful guide when considering significant events.

Our experience suggests the following three (3) questions can assist in considering arrangements:

  1. How did you celebrate as a family before separation?
  2. Who are the important people in the children’s lives at important times?
  3. What would the children want?

How did you celebrate as a family before separation?

One of the considerations determining what is in a child’s best interests is “the likely effect of any changes in the child’s circumstances”. It’s usually considered when orders are sought altering the time arrangements for children but is a helpful starting point for making arrangements generally.

In the case of Malcher & Malcher [2016] the Court noted that the mother’s family was in the habit of having a big Christmas celebration in each odd year. In those circumstances, and without fierce objection from the father, the Court determined the children should spend odd years with their mother for Christmas and commented that “that function is clearly important for the children as they will potentially draw family identity from such gatherings”. Given that this was an event that had been occurring for many years in the children’s lives, and would continue on into the lives of their family, it is clear that creating arrangements that allow such traditions to continue is important. More than just the legal precedent that supports this, enabling children to continue participating in family traditions can help them find some stability at a time when they are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what life is like without their parents being together. Some of the simple traditions from your life before separation might be easily transferable, such as making sure the child’s stocking is at the parents’ home they are going to wake up in on Christmas Day.

Who are the important people in the children’s lives at important times?

Events are about so much more than just the child’s immediate family. Celebrating holidays after a separation make this difficult. As was reflected upon in the case of Malcher, once the Court had determined that they should spend the odd years with the mother’s family so that they could participate in the extended maternal family celebration, the Court made orders for them to have time with their father and their new sibling.

The Family Law Act refers to “the nature of the relationship of the child with each of the child’s parents and other persons (including any grandparent or other relative of the child)” as a matter to be considered when determining what is in a child’s best interest. It is important to remember at all times after separating that the child continues to have significant bonds with people other than their primary carer. The Family Law Act says that one of the primary considerations in determining what is in a child’s best interest is the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents. When considering the memories that are forming in a child’s life, and perhaps your own memories from childhood, some of the best memories are formed during seasonal celebrations like Easter and Christmas and summer holidays. When life is otherwise unsettled for the child following the breakdown of their parent’s relationship it is important to remember that the best memories are formed through the relationships they have with their parents and other significant family members. This might be grandparents, cousins, a parent’s new partner or new siblings. It can be difficult following separation to remember that the bonds outside of the immediate family continue to hold significant value. As a parent when considering what is in the child’s best interest it is important to ensure that these relationships are given proper value so that the child can benefit from them.

What would the child want?

Children might have a list as long as your arm setting out what they want, but this isn’t what the Family Law Act means when it refers to “views expressed by the child”. Celebrating holidays after a separation is difficult. Coming up to milestone occasions and making plans for the future care of your children requires that you consider their views. Although at times children won’t get everything they want, and in separation it is impossible to give the children exactly what they want, it is important to take their views into consideration.

Considering what the child would want can help reframe the situation so that as parents you are looking at the world from their point of view. It can also ensure that you avoid creating a situation where the plan is made with you and your family in mind without consideration for the time the child might want to spend with your ex. Children usually have very happy memories of events like Easter or Christmas and so it can be a difficult time for them when that occasion highlights the fact that their parents are no longer together. Considering their view can help make sure that the plans you make help to alleviate some of that tension.

Make a plan

Life at holiday times is chaotic for mothers, there are no two ways about it. Dealing with busy shopping centres, extended family members  or tired children coming up to the end of term can feel like a bit of a nightmare. If you are newly separated, or have been separated for some time and need to consider not only your extended family but your ex-partner (and perhaps their new family) it is no surprise that you would be stressed. Although it might seem like the last thing you want to think about, our advice is that you speak with your ex-partner sooner rather than later about the plan for your next big family occasion. Prioritising the time your children have with their other parent reflects huge insight into the child’s best interest and it can avoid upset when  celebrations are in full force.

We hope these tips give you a bit of a guide for making your family celebrations go a little smoother throughout the year.

Lisa Wagner, Principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers, is an Accredited Family Law Specialist, a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and a Collaborative Family Lawyer. Lisa and her colleague, Prue Hawkes have been successfully helping people with their separation and divorce for many years. Celebrating holidays after a separation is a tough path to naivgate. You can find them in the NSM Directory and they are located in St Leonards. To find out more, head to their website.


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