December seems so far away in August but for separated families Christmas can be a time of high conflict and expense. Thinking about Christmas now can really save money and stress. As everyone knows, the sooner you book flights around Christmas time, the cheaper they are. Lots of families in the Territory fly to other parts of the country at this time.
Separated parents may have a conversation or an email exchange towards the end of the year about visiting family interstate which does not result in any sort of agreement. If they wrestle with this for a while and eventually work something out, they are left trying to buy airfares at the last minute. The cost at that time can be two or even three times the normal fare, which may be prohibitive and result in disappointment and resentment.
At the Family Relationship Centres we give people information about separation and we help people to reach agreement about how they are going to share the care of their children and divide up their assets.
Our process is called Family Dispute Resolution, or mediation. We have found over the years that arrangements for the children for school holidays and for Christmas Day are often difficult for parents to navigate.
When a parent comes to us and says they haven’t been able to sort out the Christmas holiday arrangements we contact the other parent and invite them to be part of Family Dispute Resolution.
If the other parent agrees, we set up a Family Dispute Resolution session time for up to three hours. Often parents will then need another session a week or two later to finalise their agreement.
The Family Dispute Resolution process takes four to six weeks to set up (and sometimes longer). Our process is that parents each attend a parent information session which we regularly run, focussing on the impact of conflict on children, and managing their conflict with the other parent. Parents then have the opportunity to meet privately with the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (mediator) prior to the mediation session, so the mediator can explain what will happen in the session, and answer any questions the parent has.
Parents who follow our process have three options in how they document what they have decided upon. They can keep it a completely verbal agreement, they can sign a Parenting Plan (which we type up for them) or they can file Minutes of Consent Order with the Family Court (this option being the only one which is legally binding and which needs a lawyer to assist).
Once agreement has been reached the process of documenting the agreement (Parenting Plan or Consent Orders) may take another four weeks or so. After that, the airline bookings are usually made.
So what we find is that it is a good idea for parents to start talking about Christmas holiday plans as soon as possible after the July school holidays. If they need to use Family Dispute Resolution, they have time to do that in August and September, allowing airfares to be booked at a reasonable price shortly after that.
Parents can contact their nearest Family Relationship Centre in Darwin on 8923 1400 or in Alice Springs on 8950 4100.