Splitting Time Over School Holidays

Easter Holidays are nearing, and you may wonder how you are going to arrange your
child’s time with you, or your former partner or spouse in a way that minimises conflict.

You may have experienced difficulty over the recent summer school holidays organising
time with your child, or perhaps the Easter school holidays are the first set of holidays
you need to make arrangements for since separation.

Either way, it is important to consider whether a Parenting Plan or Parenting Orders are
appropriate in your circumstances as either option may alleviate apprehension and
afford certainty in the coming months.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a signed written agreement made between the parents or carers of a
child, with respect to the where that child lives, and when the child is to spend time or
communicate with the other parent (or on some occasions other important persons in
the child’s life, such as grandparents). A parenting plan is usually entered into by mutual
consent following negotiation between the parents (or carers) and assists to create a
practical solution and ‘road map’ for both the children and the parents.

What is a Parenting Order?

A Parenting Order is a legal order made by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of
Australia which can set out:

  1. Who the child will live with;
  2. Who the child will spend time and communicate with;
  3. How school holidays are to be divided;
  4. Under what circumstances the child may travel with their parents, either interstate
    or overseas;
  5. Schooling; and
  6. Medical treatment.

Parenting Order is made by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, either by
agreement made between the parties, or by a judicial officer (Registrar or Judge) during
a court hearing.

Parenting Orders can be final or interim (temporary). They can be altered at any time by
agreement before the final hearing in a particular matter.

Should I opt for a Parenting Plan or a Parenting Order?

There is no golden rule as to whether a Parenting Plan or a Parenting Order is more
suitable. Opting for a Parenting Plan or Parenting Order is dependent on your
circumstances and preference, however, Parenting Orders are ultimately desirable.

A Parenting Plan is not legally enforceable, so if one parent decides to withhold the child
there is limited recourse. On the other hand, Parenting Orders are legally enforceable so
there are consequences of non-compliance.

A Parenting Plan can be more economical as it does not involve going to the Federal
Circuit and Family Court of Australia. A Parenting Order contrarily requires the court’s
involvement which can be costly.

Although a Parenting Plan can be a more efficient way of developing parenting
arrangements as they do not require you to attend the Federal Circuit and Family Court
of Australia, they can also be an inefficient way to make arrangements. This is because
there is probability, in some cases, that a party may not comply with a Parenting Plan.

As mentioned, Parenting Plans are not legally enforceable, so although you may not
anticipate that court proceedings are necessary in your circumstances, it may be a last
resort should all informal agreements fail.

A Parenting Plan is potentially more suited for parties that are amicable and have the
appetite to formulate an agreement. A Parenting Order on the other hand allows for
judicial determination in relation the child’s arrangements without mutual consent.

Despite this, there is no required pathway for parties to engage in either option. You may
opt of a Parenting Plan in the intermediary stages as it may serve as a basis for parties
to negotiate their parenting arrangements; such arrangements can later be formalised by
way of Parenting Orders without conflict or significant cost.

What are common holiday arrangements that separated parents opt for?

1. Splitting Time

One way to arrange your child’s time on holidays is by splitting the time available in
half. For example, if there are three weeks of holidays, each parent may have care of
the child for 10 days each. Another example is where one parent has the child one
week, and the other parent has the child the following week. This arrangement may
be beneficial for the summer school holidays.

There may also be arrangements in place to split special occasions. On Easter, for
example, one parent may have the child from 12pm Good Friday until 12pm Easter
Sunday and the other parent has the child from 12pm Easter Sunday until 12pm
Easter Monday. Another example may be splitting Easter Sunday alone, where one
parent would have the child from 10am until 2pm, and the other parent has the child
from 2pm until 6pm.

Although this is one example, it is important to note that there is no one formula that
need be applied. Ultimately, the best formula is the one that works best for the child
and the parents or carers.

2. Alternating Each Year

Another way for parents to arrange time over the holidays is to alternate the time
allocated for holidays or a special occasion each year. For example, in 2024 or in
even years, one parent will have the child from Good Friday until Easter Monday,
and in 2025 and the proceeding odd years, the other parent will have the child for
these days.

Who can help me make a Parenting Plan or application for Parenting Orders?

A Family Lawyer can assist you to draft a Parenting Plan and prepare an application to
the court seeking Parenting Orders. There are also other individuals such as Family
Dispute Resolution Practitioners who can assist you.

Regardless of your choice, it is important to start making these enquiries well in advance
of the school holiday period as the process can be time consuming. There may be
significant time involved in discussion between the parties, whether that be informally, or
with the assistance of a Family Lawyer. Accordingly, allowing time for negotiation
between yourself and your former partner or spouse will be to your benefit.

Based on the above, here are our top 3 tips with respect to splitting time over school
holidays that you can optimise now:

  1. Seek legal advice before entering into any Parenting Plan, attending a mediation
    or like service;
  2. Engage in discussion with your former partner or spouse in advance, when safe
    to do so, and ideally with the assistance of a lawyer; and
  3. Consider your child’s needs and best interests, and be practical about what works
    best for you, the other party, and the child.

Separation can be challenging for all involved, but particularly children. In amongst the
uncertainty, a Parenting Plan or Parenting Order may help create a sense of certainty
and support for your child. The circumstances, including the recency of your separation
may provoke further challenges and navigating these decisions can be tough. At
Hartleys Lawyers we are here to assist you and create a solution to your child’s needs
whether that be in the upcoming school holidays or in relation to other parenting

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice with family
law parenting matters, please contact our Intake team on (03) 8415 5600 or email us at

This article is intended to provide general information only and is limited to the Victorian
jurisdiction only. You should obtain professional advice before you undertake any
course of action.

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