Four tips for separated families at Christmas

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

Celebrating Christmas can put extra pressure on separated families. Get expert guidance on taking care of festive finances and wellbeing during or after divorce.

The festive season can be a time when many families struggle to stick to a budget and keep the peace. For couples who have separated, or are going through a divorce, trying to keep traditions going and enjoy time with family can become an even bigger challenge, from a financial and emotional perspective.

As a founder member of MELCA, a service offering personalised support for couples to divorce without going to court, Tricia CFP® has played a significant role in helping separated couples navigate the emotions, conflict and pressures that can arise at Christmas. “It’s not Christmas itself that creates the problems,” says Tricia. “But what it can do is bring many of our fears about the future beyond the marriage out into the open. For some parents, they’re scared about not being able to be the parent they want to be for their children. There are also likely to be concerns about financial security. At Christmas we typically feel the pressure to spend money so everybody can enjoy themselves. If you’re feeling uncertain about your income, now and into the future, this can dial up the anxiety that your seasonal bills for gifts, food and experiences are more than you can afford.”

Addressing communication challenges

According to Tricia, one of the biggest challenges for couples going through separation is encountering the same communication problems and conflict that have led them to change their relationship status. “No matter how sincere your intentions are to keep things amicable, if there’s been conflict in the past it will be hard to avoid in the future,” says Tricia. “And while many people, and their respective legal counsel, might treat a divorce settlement as a business deal, it’s never going to be that simple. If you don’t acknowledge and manage the feelings involved, things can escalate very quickly into a fierce dispute over finances and parenting arrangements.”

This is why the support team at MELCA includes a psychologist as well as lawyers and financial planners like Tricia. “They can guide couples away from communication patterns that have been charged with conflict in the past,” says Tricia. “If you’re anticipating extra strain on your family and finances as Christmas approaches, try to be aware of the conversations and situations that are going to trigger frustration and anxiety. There are four tips to keep in mind, which can help you minimise conflict in your conversations and work towards an outcome that’s practical for your finances and sensitive to both your needs.”

1. Be prepared

Tricia stresses the importance of having conversations about Christmas early to take the pressure off you and your financial situation. “Try to put your heads together on your Christmas plans at least a month out,” says Tricia. “The sooner the two of you can get this on your agenda, the more time you have to agree on what works best for you