Every year we, as family lawyers, anticipate that the lead up to the festive season holiday period is going to be incredibly busy with parenting matters. That is because for families going through separation and divorce, there is a need for separated families to determine who is going to see or have the children on particular days over the holiday period.
It is September at the time of writing this article and what is incredibly important for people to understand, is that in the event you and your former partner cannot come to an agreement about your parenting arrangements or property settlement, there are some dates that will affect whether you will be able to get the support you need to be able to get to a resolution – before those important holiday dates come up.
Even if you do not ever imagine needing to go to Court or require the assistance of a lawyer or mediator to get to an agreement, you should become familiar with some key deadlines that could affect you and your children this holiday season.
The Court has a deadline that essentially says, if you want to apply for parenting orders, that is, to have your parenting arrangements formalised and finalised, you will need to have that done by a certain date. That date changes each year and is only announced in October each year. Last year in 2020, that deadline was the 13th of November. So, if it is similar this year in 2021, that falls mid-November, which is far before most parents think to bed down their holiday parenting arrangements.
If you need to file after the Court’s filing date, there is no guarantee that your matter will be able to be dealt with in this calendar year.
In relation to parenting matters, an exception to that might be, for example, a child abduction or another issue that the Court deems urgent. However, any run-of-the-mill parenting disputes will be, if not filed by that deadline date, dealt with the following year.
This also applies to property settlements. Often people who have not finalised their property settlement will contact their family lawyer in late October or November, requesting assistance with the hope of having everything finalised by the 25th or 31st of December. The desire to have things ‘wrapped up’ by years’ end is to be expected, but cannot be achieved if steps are not taken early on.
In addition to the end of the year being a busy time for family lawyers, it is the mediators – professionals who assist in the process of helping parties come to an agreement without the need to go to Court – who are also booked out during this time. So, in the event you require a mediation, taking the approach of seeking advice early on and securing a mediator as early as possible, applies here too.
Consequently, for those of you who anticipate there may be disagreement or dispute between you and your former partner about who will have the children on particular days over the holiday period, you need to seek advice from a family lawyer promptly.
These issues are further complicated this year with the merger of the courts dealing with family law issues on September 1 2021 and a general uncertainty in the profession as to how matters will be dealt with by the courts, particularly urgent parenting matters.
Formalise holiday season parenting arrangements now
Given that this filing deadline is in place, we recommend that you should have an agreement detailing what the plans are for your children bedded down as soon as possible. While some parents will be able to come to an agreement, it is vital that this is documented and finalised. The same applies to property settlements.
It is not uncommon for amicable separations to take a turn poorly, particularly when negotiating for time with the children over Christmas. Even though the deadline will likely be around mid-November, you want to have any potential issues resolved as soon as possible, as if they are not you may not be able to file unless you have addressed the pre-filing requirements of the new family law system.
And while you may not anticipate the need for support, if you do need to file, then you will want to have plenty of time to prepare for it, so that you are able to file well before the deadline.
So approaching an agreement requires some strategic thinking on your part. In the event you cannot come to an agreement, or your informal agreement does not materialise, you may be in need of a Family Report, and often the Family Report writers are fully booked in the lead up to the end of the year.
A lot of the parenting disputes that have seen in past years relate to overseas travel at Christmas, which will be off the agenda this year with our borders closed. There will however still be disputes about interstate travel and covid-related risks.
This step of seeking advice now and formalising the arrangements is about anticipating the issues that may arise. Right now, in September, it is essential to determine, with your children’s other parent, what is to occur, and formalise the agreement. You will want to avoid the situation we see too often around this time of year which is, one parent calls to confirm arrangements with the other and there is a change to what was previously agreed to or anticipated, by one or both parents.
Likewise, if you are looking to have your property settlement wrapped up by years’ end, seek advice now to see what can be done to help you make that happen.
Related: What to expect in a Mediation
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