November 25, 2021

Christmas and co-parenting: what are your options and what to arrange

The team at Norman Waterhouse Lawyers have some handy advice to take the stress out of what can be a very difficult time for both parents and children.

The holiday season can be stressful and chaotic at the best of times, but the challenges of shared parenting can add a whole new, and often difficult, dimension to things.

The family law team at Norman Waterhouse understands that being a single parent and/or co-parenting through the Christmas and summer holiday period can be particularly problematic and hard to navigate.

With some tips on shared parenting below for a range of different situations, Normans are here to alleviate some stress and outline exactly what you need to know.

Things to remember

  • Parenting orders specifying times for parents to spend with children on special occasions like Christmas (as well as any other times) can be obtained through the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia – either with the consent of the other parent or by way of a contested application.
  • If there are no orders in place, parents need to come to an agreement about Christmas and the holidays. If you are unable to reach an agreement, it is important to know that the deadline to make an application to the court is currently the second Friday of November each year. The court may still allow late applications, but only if there are urgent circumstances. 
  • Even if there are court orders in place, parents are able to agree to different arrangements, as circumstances may have changed since the orders were made. Remember to make sure your new agreement is in writing to prevent any confusion or arguments.

Common arrangements

The precise arrangements parents should be trying to negotiate is up to them, but usually the court looks to give parents roughly equal time with children over Christmas itself and the summer holiday period, as long as it’s practical and in the children’s best interests. 

  • Splitting the days: The most common shared care arrangement for Christmas is for the children to spend Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day with one parent and then the remainder of Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the other parent. Alternatively, some people prefer to just alternate Christmases with children, which inevitably simplifies the logistics for the day.
  • Interstate/overseas arrangements: If one parent lives interstate or overseas and is unable or unwilling to come to South Australia, then a common arrangement is for the children to spend every second or third Christmas/summer holiday period in that parent’s care. Of course, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on interstate and international travel over the last couple of years and any arrangements involving the children travelling now need to be framed around the relevant local laws and restrictions. If a 14-day quarantine period is involved, it could be a no-go altogether.
  • Booking a holiday: Things become more difficult when one or both parents want to take a holiday with the children. If there are orders in place and they allow for it, the orders will generally require the parent taking the holiday to notify the other parent within a certain time period (e.g. by the last day of the Term 3 school period). If there are no orders in place, try to arrange things as early as possible. It’s not unreasonable to expect notice if you’re the other parent, and it’s not necessarily unreasonable to say no if you don’t get it.

If you can’t reach an agreement

If you can’t reach an agreement with the other parent about a holiday away from home with the children over Christmas, then your only option is to make an application to the court.

The court will consider that application on its merits, and from the overarching perspective of whether it’s in the best interests of the children. 

To support that kind of application to the court, you might want to provide copies of any passport applications, flight bookings and travel itineraries, together with any relevant emails/text messages exchanged with the other parent. Hopefully, they won’t be needed, but it’s better to be prepared just in case.

Key Message

Start negotiating early to ensure a happy holiday time for you and your children.

For assistance during this time, or any time, head to

or contact Christopher Mason on



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