As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the Federal and State Governments are implementing strict self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine measures. With the new restrictions on movements families are feeling anxious and worried about what COVID-19 means for their children and parenting arrangements.
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit of Australia are urging parents to act in the best interests of their children. Unless a “reasonable excuse” to contravene the Orders applies, parents must continue to facilitate spend time, attend changeovers and otherwise comply with the existing parenting arrangements. The existence of COVID-19 does not automatically give rise to a reasonable excuse. If parents unilaterally withhold their children or breach court Orders, they may later become subject to a Contravention Application.
These circumstances may give rise to a ‘reasonable excuse’ and could justify temporary suspension of parenting arrangements. It is important that you first obtain medical advice and a proper diagnosis and confirm this in writing to the other parent.
During this time, it is important that you continue to facilitate communication with the other parent. For example, the children could communicate with the other parent via telephone or video. Services such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Houseparty and Whatsapp enable families to stay connected. Further, try to arrange how the other parent can have make-up time once the restrictions have been lifted.
Often families arrange for changeovers to take place at schools, or public places, like restaurants. Given the current circumstances, this may no longer be possible if those places are closed. In the first instance, and where it is safe to do so, parents should try to reach an agreement (preferably in writing) about new handover arrangements that are practical, sensible and reasonable.
If parents cannot reach an agreement or if it is not safe for them to communicate, they may make an application to the Court to vary the Orders. The Family and Federal Circuit Courts are still hearing urgent matters and most of the hearings are now conducted via telephone or video. However, parties should expect significant delays.
If you need to discuss your Parenting Orders or have concerns about how COVID-19 will affect your Family Law matters, please contact one of our family lawyers.
With Phoebe Smillie
If you need assistance on these issues, please contact Ed Clark on 03 8600 6060 or out of hour our emergency family law hotline 0424 694 124