By Vanessa Hernandez

Egg hunts, hot cross buns, and people dressed up as giant bunnies…sounds like Easter must be right around the corner, right? It’s a holiday that you and your kids usually love, and that you look forward to each year, but this year you haven’t yet agreed to a sharing arrangement with your ex and you’re anxious about whether your ex will agree to the children spending time with you.  So what can you do about getting this sorted out in time for Easter and any other upcoming special occasions?

  1. DON’T BE AN EGG HEAD, PLAN AHEAD

This one is a tip for future special occasions – make sure that you start discussions about arrangements early on.

Will it be best to have a ‘time-sharing’ arrangement?  For example, will the children live with you from Thursday night to Easter Saturday, and then with the other parent from Easter Saturday to Easter Monday?  Or, will you alternate years with the children spending this Easter with you, and with your ex next year?

There are a number of options available to you. Think about what’s best for the children and start discussions early. This gives you options in case you cannot agree and might need to seek legal advice or attend mediation.

  1. WANT A HOPPY HOLIDAY? BE SPECIFIC & PUT IT IN WRITING!

When making arrangements, it’s important that the terms are not vague or ambiguous. An example of this common mistake is “I’ll take the children for the first part of the school holidays”.  As a lawyer, these types of agreement drive me bananas. When does the ‘first part’ begin and end? What is the changeover time and location? Who is responsible to pick up and drop off?

Once you have reached an agreement, ensure that you have recorded it in writing.  This can be done via text, email or through written correspondence via your lawyers.

Having a vague agreement or failing to document what was agreed to may result in unnecessary future conflict, misunderstandings, and ultimately may mean that the agreement you worked so hard to reach is actually unenforceable.

  1. HANDOVER THE EGGS AND NO BODY GETS HURT!

The overriding principle in Family Courts on all matters involving children is considering what is in the best interest of the children – their needs, your previous traditions, and the children’s extended family.  As much as you want to share the holiday with them, you do not have to obstruct the other parent from also sharing special time with them.

Try and remember that the last thing you want to do is to cause your children to feel as if they are caught in the middle of a tug-o-war battle between their parents. Being entirely inflexible, or making unreasonable demands of the other parent, won’t assist in ensuring the children have a lovely Easter.

I have had clients say that they will simply collect the children and remove them from the other parent’s care, or some say they have decided not to return the children at the end of the agreed time because they think the arrangement is unfair.  If you are thinking of such drastic measures, remember the children who will be caught up in the middle of your decision and think of the impact your decision will have in the long term on your case, your ability to co-parent with the other party, and if your matter ends up in court, think about how the Judge will view your actions.

Just because in the past your ex has been unfair or inflexible, doesn’t give you a ‘free pass’ to do the same.  Don’t play tit for tat. Put the interest of your children first.

  1. DON’T BE A SILLY RABBIT

During any holiday, there are usually additional financial strains, unrealistic expectations and increased alcohol consumption. Any of these things could lead to an incident occurring or even domestic violence allegations in high stress environments.

To ensure that you create a non-toxic environment for your children, try to remain calm and focused throughout any difficult or emotional negotiation. The last thing you want to do is to cause more conflict in an already fragile parenting relationship or even worse, have domestic violence proceedings commenced against you.

If you feel like you are being pressured or bullied into an arrangement that is not in the best interests of the children, consider other options available such as supervised time with the other parent.

If you are fearful for your safety, or your children’s safety this holiday period, seek legal advice or in the case of an emergency, dial 000.

  1. DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET

Just remember, even if things don’t go according to plan, and your ex does not agree to the options you propose, or withholds the children altogether, don’t give up.

For example, just because things are not the way you planned them in your mind, or your ex has only offered you the bare minimum of time with your children, it doesn’t mean you can’t create your own special day with your children.

If the other parent refuses all time between you and your children, aim for ‘Plan B’ … (even though at this point it may feel more like ‘Plan C….or D or E’…).  Ask to exchange or post a gift to your children.  Ask for telephone, skype or facetime.

Don’t let ego or pride get in the way, if you have the opportunity to see your children, however small a time frame is offered, take it! The children are not to blame and will be excited to see you or spend any time at all with you.

Whilst none of these options are ideal, and it may feel like your ex is ‘dictating’ terms to you or that you are constantly giving in, you can take proactive steps to prevent this happening again in the future.  I know as a lawyer I may sound like a broken record, but you should always get legal advice.  Don’t assume your situation is a lost cause.

Remember, it takes one parent to reduce conflict.  If the other parent is incapable, make sure that are the positive example your children need.