Separation and Celebrations: Avoid the Faux Pas this Festive Season

By 4 December 2019Family Law

The festive season is upon us and as the year draws to a close it opens up a time for celebration with friends, family and colleagues.  Unfortunately for some, this time of year can be one of the most difficult. We have put together a cheat sheet for couples who have separated to attempt to help them make it through the holiday season unscathed.

  1. Celebrate in moderation

Most separated parties who have had any experience with the Family Law Courts will be familiar with one or both parties making allegations of the other making poor decisions, either through behaviour, finances or both.

It is important for parents in particular to remember the “best interests principle”. The Court makes decisions about what arrangements to put in place for children based on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests.  Often those interests may conflict or compete with a party’s own, but the Court’s expectation is clear – children are to come first.

What this means for separated parents celebrating this festive season is that, where one parent conceives that the celebrations get carried away, they may seek the imposition of drug and alcohol screening as a pre-requisite for children spending time with the other parent.  This can be an onerous and invasive process, with collections requiring supervision to meet chain-of-custody requirements, and is administratively challenged by the routine closure of most legal offices as well as the Court over the festive season.

Depending on the type of test sought, drug usage can be detected days, weeks or months afterwards.  Similarly, regular and ongoing use of alcohol will often appear on liver function tests regardless of whether a party abstains from drinking in the days immediately before the sample is taken.

For financial matters, it is also important for parties to remember their obligation to provide full and frank financial disclosure, which is ongoing until an outcome is achieved.  While it might seem like a good idea at the time to shout a round of drinks, when that transaction appears on a credit card or bank account statement it may well incite questions by the other party, particularly if there is a dispute about maintaining mortgage repayments or other debt, or an ability to meet child support or spousal maintenance.  Similarly, large cash withdrawals will often spark concern in those circumstances.

How to put your best foot forward: keep the costs of celebrating down where possible, keep celebrations discreet (especially around social media) and don’t make drugs and alcohol routine in your daily life.

  1. Keep contact with the other party civil and necessary

Unfortunately it’s more often than not that parties are unable to effectively communicate in an amicable way following separation.  It is a particularly difficult time which creates significant emotional and financial pressure, and for this reason separated parties should exercise caution in communication.

Again, it might seem like a good idea to send a text message to your former partner at 2am, but if the person receiving that message doesn’t feel the same (and chances are they don’t, thus the separation), that unwanted contact could prove costly.

Not only does this type of behaviour advertise that one party is out socialising and celebrating, it can further sever the relationship.  If that’s not enough, that contact (especially if repeated) could give rise to a Domestic Violence Order, which will bring with it more emotional and financial costs in trying to defend the Order, or negotiate revised parenting arrangements in the aftermath.

The safest option: communicate only when necessary, and keep all contact civil and at least business-like in nature.

  1. Outplaying the other parent doesn’t make you a winner

Often it is tempting for one (or both) parents to compete with the other for a child’s affection.  Not only does this expose both parties to the obvious vulnerability of the child realising the game and taking control of it, such behaviours can have serious detrimental effects on a child’s psychological wellbeing, which is already of concern as that child grapples with all of the changes in their life (and at times, hostility).

Quizzing a child on the goings-on in the other parent’s home is also fraught with danger, as this can cause a series of problems for both parent and child.  Children will often tell a parent what they want to hear, which can result in misplaced judgment, and usually examples that parent’s anxieties being projected onto the child.

Parenting disputes will more often than not result in the appointment of an expert witness (usually a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist) to prepare a Family Report.  Rest assured that if the report writer gets an inkling that children are being coached or quizzed by one parent, that finding will surface in the report and attract unsavoury attention by the Courts.

The rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t like the other parent to do it, think twice before you choose to do it yourself.

If you would like to discuss any concerns you may have in maintaining, improving or strategizing on your property settlement or parenting arrangements this festive season, please do not hesitate to contact our Toowoomba lawyers on 1300 068 736.

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