Christmas holidays custody coparenting problems for separated parents

Divorce and separation at Christmas

This article includes information regarding many common Christmas custody issue questions, including…

  • Can I stop my ex from taking my child overseas?
  • What do I do if I my parenting order has been breached?
  • What are some Christmas coparenting custody arrangements examples?
  • What if my child has been taken overseas without my consent?
    And more…

Rebecca Dahl, Lawyer

Divorce and separation child custody issues at Christmas

Christmas and the summer holidays are widely regarded as exciting and memorable times for families. However, separated parents are often fraught with questions about child arrangements and face difficulties adjusting to altered traditions. This can make an otherwise exciting time of year stressful and emotionally charged.

With this in mind, there are some things you can do as a separated parent to reduce stress and make the most of the festive season.

Reaching an agreement on arrangements for your children

Reaching a coparenting agreement on Christmas
Reaching a coparenting agreement on Christmas

When negotiating arrangements for children over Christmas and other special occasions, there are several important considerations to keep in mind:

  • To ensure that any issues are dealt with effectively, it is best to initiate discussions and plan your arrangements early.
  • Ensure your negotiation sets out clear times for how your child will spend time on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve or other important days or events for your family.
  • Consider the entire summer holiday period. Will the arrangements beyond Christmas Day be as usual?
  • To avoid any confusion and unnecessary conflict on Christmas Day, try and have the agreed arrangements in writing and do your part to stick to them. It is also wise to try and agree to refrain from any negative or emotionally charged conversations in front of or within earshot of the children.
  • Consider the child changeover details, including practicalities such as the distance between parents on Christmas.
  • Agree on what you will do if there are hiccups – like traffic delays or illness – particularly COVID, which may require isolation.

Christmas coparenting custody arrangements examples

Two homes for Christmas
Two homes for Christmas

To guide your negotiation, aim for a practical and child-centered arrangement, which might mean compromising on what parents want.

An alternating arrangement is a common arrangement to consider and works for many families. This is often a good place to start the negotiation. For example, the children may spend from noon Christmas Eve to noon Christmas Day with one parent and from noon Christmas Day to noon Boxing Day with the other.

For other families, children spending the entire day with a parent can work better, rather than splitting the day up, and avoiding travel on a busy day.

Other families will share the ‘Santa experience’ together and then go their own ways for the rest of the day with the children as above.

Given the sentimental nature parents often attach to Christmas and the holiday season, it is understandable that reaching an agreement can be difficult when parents have recently separated.

Family Dispute Resolution Conference (Mediation)

If negotiating between yourselves fails, the next step is to attend a Family Dispute Resolution Conference (Mediation), which is often the best way to resolve issues that are so emotionally charged.

Here, a mediator third party assists you in having a productive conversation during negotiations.

What do I do if Mediation fails?

What do I do if mediation fails?
What do I do if mediation fails?

If no agreement is reached by yourselves or through mediation, you may apply to obtain parenting orders for your Christmas arrangements from the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

Please note, there is a cut-off date for getting your Christmas and holiday arrangement issue decided by the court.

Rule 5.01A of the Family Law Rules 2004, provides that parenting order applications for the Christmas school holiday period (including arrangements for special days) must be filed before 4:00 pm on the second Friday in November. This is something you may need to have in mind for 2023 if Christmas 2022 doesn’t pan out as you hoped.

The date for 2022 has passed, however, your matter could still be heard if deemed an emergency, including in the case of family violence or child abuse, but the urgency of Christmas Day in and of itself does not meet this threshold. At this point in the year, the best arrangement is mediation and ensuring the following year your arrangements are considered early.

What do I do if I my parenting order has been breached?

What do I do if the parenting order has been breached?
What do I do if the parenting order has been breached?

Courts can penalise a party for breach of a parenting order.

A party who believes their parenting order has been breached can apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia with a Contravention Application.

When determining whether a contravention has occurred, and if so, whether the party had a reasonable excuse for the breach, the courts will consider all relevant facts and law. Depending on the facts of the case and the severity of the breach, the courts may penalise a party by ordering them to provide make up time for the other parent, pay a fine, participate in community service, enter into a bond, etc.

Other important considerations

Travelling interstate or overseas

It is not uncommon for children to travel with one or both parents during the school holidays, especially given the context of the previous two years and the COVID-19 travel restrictions limiting these opportunities. However, for a child to travel overseas, consent from both parents is required.

Legal consequences can ensue if this is not obtained. Parents should also communicate with each other about interstate travel and reach an agreement on which parent should remain in possession of the child/children’s passport(s).

What if my child has been taken overseas without my consent?

What do I do if my ex takes my kids overseas?
What do I do if my ex takes my kids overseas?

If you believe your child/children has/have been taken overseas without your consent, there are a few options available to you.

If you believe your child’s welfare and/or safety has been compromised, the first point of action would be to report the matter to your local police immediately.

The next step would be to contact the Australian Federal Police for advice on placing your child/children’s name(s) on the Family Law Watchlist. By placing a child’s name on the Family Law Watchlist the police will be notified of any potential attempts to remove a child out of the country in contravention of court orders.

Can I stop my ex from taking my child overseas?

If your child/children has/have not yet left Australia, it may be possible to prevent them from doing so.

It would also be advisable for a parent who believes their child has been or may be taken overseas to obtain legal advice. A lawyer can assist you in obtaining recovery orders or any other court orders that may be required. A recovery order is provided to all officers of Australian Federal Police and all state and territory police officers to assist in locating and recovering a child/children.

What do I do if things go wrong?

Divorce and separation at Christmas

Ask for help! There are many support services available to help you and take comfort in the fact that these types of concerns are not uncommon.

Seek advice from a lawyer.

Some problems to anticipate during the Christmas period may include an ex-partner threatening to keep the children longer than agreed or taking a child without permission.

If you feel you or your children are unsafe, please contact the police on 000.

Some of the services you can reach out to include:

  • 1800 RESPECT – Support services for people who have experienced domestic, family or sexual violence.
  • Lifeline (13 11 14) – A 24/7 National Crisis Support Line that offers support for victims of family violence.
  • Relationships Australia (1300 364 277) – Support, family violence prevention and counselling services accessible to all Australians.
  • Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) – A 24/7 online counselling service for people aged 5 to 25 who may have experienced or be experiencing family violence.


Rebecca Dahl, Lawyer
Nicholes Family Lawyers Melbourne | Geelong

If you would like to discuss parenting arrangements, or receive more tailored advice please contact Nicholes Family Lawyers where we are familiar with assisting clients with a range of issues including child arrangements for Christmas Day and the school holidays. We have skilled lawyers available over the Christmas period to help.
For further information please visit the official website :

This article contains only general information, correct at the date of publication. For advice regarding your own personal circumstances, always seek individual advice from a qualified professional. Read the full Disclaimer here


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