Information for Professionals and Referrers

Joanne Law

If you are working with clients going through separation you don’t need me to tell you how difficult the holiday season can be for them. This service is designed to make it a little easier.

What’s the problem?

After separation the parent the child is living with may not want to have anything to do with the other side of the child’s family.

While this is understandable it is generally not in the child’s best interests. We know that ongoing contact with both sides of the family (as long as it is safe) promotes resilience and provides support to children of separated parents.

Yet if in the past holiday periods meant a time of greater risk of conflict or even family violence incidents it can be very tempting for resident parents to block any attempts by other family members to spend time with your children.

For those who are not able to spend any time with beloved children,  grandchildren, nieces or nephews it can be very depressing.

They miss out on seeing and spending time with the children and the children miss out on family rituals that are a meaningful part of their childhood.

Interact Support offers a solution to negotiating contact with children over the holidays.

So what’s the solution?

Interact offers a low cost, no waiting list family dispute resolution service to negotiate time with children for special occasions like the end of year holidays.

The services are provided by Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners who understand trauma and the challenges associated with communication that family members have after a relationship breakdown.

Who is this service for?

Holiday Arrangements mediation is for any family member who finds it difficult to communicate directly with the child’s primary care giver.

Is it safe?

The service is delivered by video mediation, phone mediation or Mediator Facilitated Negotiation.
That means that none of the parties have to meet in person to discuss the issues.
The service includes a full risk assessment (using the DOORS risk screening tool) and individual pre-mediation sessions.
Parents and others will have the opportunity to openly discuss any concerns they have about the safety of the children.
At all times the child’s safety is the number one consideration. Spending time with family may not be possible if there are legitimate concerns and a track record of past uncontrolled,  harmful behaviour.


What is the Holiday Arrangements Process?


Step One: we conduct a mandatory risk assessment and preparation session with the parent the child lives with and the family member(s) who will be caring for the child if the negotiation is successful. This pre-mediation session is conducted by a family dispute resolution practitioner by phone or video meeting.

If the proposal is not to spend time with the child due to past family violence it might relate to negotiating for a card and/or gift to be given to the child or a phone or video meeting between the child and other family members.

If there are no barriers to proceeding we determine the next step. Sometimes there is a refusal by the primary care giver to participate in mediation (speaking directly) and if that is the case we may be able to offer mediator facilitated negotiation (proposals put via the mediator without direct communication).

Step Two: if both participants are willing and able to join a video or phone meeting we will facilitate a discussion of the options for the Holiday Arrangements.

Sometimes limited access to the internet means this discussion occurs by phone. We prefer to facilitate this mediation via video meeting as it gives the parties the chance to see each other and speak face to face. If either client is feeling anxious it is possible to have you or another support person in the room with them on their end of the video meeting.

Step Three: if an agreement is reached the mediator will document it for them to make sure that everyone is absolutely sure about what has been agreed.

What about if there is a Court Order in place?

If there are Family Court Orders in place the mediator will need a copy of the orders. The Holiday Arrangements agreement may be able to vary the orders if it is written up in the form of a Parenting Plan.

All people with parental responsibility will have to sign the agreement for it to become a Parenting Plan and be able to vary the Court Orders. This is mandatory if the arrangements could be considered to be a breach of the orders without a Parenting Plan in place permitting it.

If there is a Family Violence Order in place the mediator will need a copy of the orders. They will discuss the provisions with each of the parties as part of step one.

If the protection order permits contact in accordance with a Family Law Agreement they will need any agreement you reach to be written up into a Parenting Plan. This is mandatory if the arrangements could be considered to be a breach of the orders without a family law agreement in place permitting it.

DO NOT initiate direct contact with your former partner or child if your intervention order prohibits contact without a family law agreement in place. Making contact even if the contact is to send a gift or ask how the child could be a breach of the order and could have serious legal consequences.  

What if there is a Parenting Plan in place?

If what the parties agree varies the Parenting Plan the mediator will help you to update the Parenting Plan.

What can the arrangements be?

Holiday Arrangements can vary depending on the circumstances. Some of the options include:

  • – being able to send the child a gift
  • – having a phone call or video chat with the child
  • – spending supervised time with the child
  • – the child attending church, family lunch or other activity with you
  • – a sleepover or short stay
  • – a longer trip with the other parent or family members such as a visit with a parent, cousins or grandparents
  • – other arrangements that are appropriate for your family situation
The type of arrangements that are agreed will depend on the age of the child, the level of the previous conflict and if they are old enough, what the child thinks about what is proposed.

What about non-parent family members?

Usually the only constraint on non-parent family members negotiating time with the child directly is the damaged relationship with the resident parent.
The same process of risk assessment and either mediation or negotiation can be facilitated for grandparents, aunts and uncles and other family members.
If an agreement is reached it will be written down so that everyone is clear about who is doing what and when but it would not be considered a parenting plan.

“Interact Support has a self-paced online Post Separation Parenting Course which could be something that a parent requests that the other family member completes if they believe there is a lack of understanding about the harm that exposing children to conflict causes.”  Find out more.

What does the service cost?

The standard fee for the service is $500 or $250 each if the parties agree to share the cost equally.

This includes the risk screening and preparation for two people and one to two hours of phone or video mediation or mediator facilitated negotiation.

Our normal hourly rate is $198 per hour. If the client decides that they want to continue on and negotiate a more comprehensive agreement they may transition to our standard FDR service and they would have additional costs if they can afford to pay. 

What if your client can’t afford $500?

They just need to tell us what they can pay and we’ll dip into our hardship fund to cover the rest.

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Holiday Ar…

by Joanne Law time to read: 6 min
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