How does COVID-19 affect your parenting matter?

With the rapid changes to government restrictions, the impact that COVID-19 is having on families is far reaching and the issues that parents are experiencing are largely unprecedented.

If you are a parent trying to navigate your co-parenting obligations in the time of COVID-19, we encourage you to contact us for advice about your matter. Here at Carew Counsel Solicitors we understand that no two situations are the same and our team of experienced family lawyers are here to provide you with the advice and assistance that you need.

Parenting orders and COVID-19

Generally speaking, if there are parenting orders in place, then you must comply with those orders and a general risk of exposure to COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to avoid compliance. However, as is the case in all parenting matters, the need to comply with parenting orders must be balanced against what is in the best interests of the child/ren.

Chief Justice William Alstergren of the Family Court of Australia released a press statement on 26 March 2020 which stated that:

  1. It is imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children. This includes ensuring their children’s safety and wellbeing. Whilst the Courts make orders that are determined to be in the best interests of a child, caring for and determining the practical day-to-day best interests of a child is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers.
  1. Consistent with their responsibilities to act in the children’s best interests, parents and carers are expected to comply with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. This includes facilitating time being spent by the children with each parent or carer pursuant to parenting orders. …

Should you fail to comply with parenting orders, you are at risk of a contravention or enforcement application being made against you.

The only circumstances in which you might be justified in not complying with parenting orders is where you have a “reasonable excuse” for not doing so.

What is a “reasonable excuse”?

You might have a “reasonable excuse” if you, the other parent or the child/ren have received a positive test result for COVID-19 or a direction has been given by a medical practitioner for you and the child/ren to go into quarantine together. If this is the case, medical reports should be provided to the other parent to support you going into quarantine with the child/ren.

There may be other circumstances where strict compliance with parenting orders is not feasible in view of the pandemic restrictions. Some examples include:

  • If a contact centre where time between a parent and a child/ren has closed (meaning the person/ organisation to supervise time as specified under the orders cannot proceed).
  • Where the child/ren are no longer attending the school at which changeover is to occur (meaning the changeover location under the orders cannot be adhered to).
  • Where interstate border restrictions prevent you or the other parent from travelling to spend time with child/ren (meaning contact in person may not be able to occur).

In those circumstances, you should use your best efforts to communicate with the other parent and seek to resolve these issues between you, however, if resolution is not possible, please contact us so we can provide you with our legal advice, including in respect of possible legal causes of action, where appropriate.

Co-parenting during COVID-19

As this is an unprecedented time, and it remains unclear as to how the Court will treat parenting issues arising from the impact of COVID-19, we encourage you to follow these steps:

  1. Where possible, comply with the parenting orders.
  1. Ensure that you follow all relevant federal and state laws and public health guidelines, including in respect of hygiene recommendations, social distancing and self-isolation (where required).
  1. Communicate and cooperate with the other parent to work through any issues that arise with implementation of parenting orders. If the orders cannot be strictly complied with, think about creative solutions to maintain communication with the child/ren in the short term. Confirm these arrangements with the other party in writing (by email or text message) to ensure that you have a record of agreed changes.

If you have any queries or concerns about implementing the orders, or you are unable to reach agreement with the other parent, contact our office for legal advice and assistance.

We have provided a link below to some useful tips prepared by the Law Council of Australia for separated parents working through the impact of COVID-19. There are also a range of online mediation services available that can help you work through your co-parenting issues.

Helpful resources

You can read more about your obligations to comply with parenting orders, and tips for co-parenting in the time of COVID-19, via the links below:

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