In the highly unusual circumstances now faced by Australian parents and carers, COVID-19 is having a significant impact upon public services. This includes the operation of the Court and the family law system. For example, there may be situations that arise which make strict compliance with court orders very difficult, if not, impossible.
For instance, compliance is challenged where orders stipulate that contact with a parent should occur at a designated contact centre, which has since been closed due to COVID-19. With the closure of many state borders, separated parents who live in different states may also find it difficult to comply with their shared parental responsibilities. In addition, there may be genuine safety issues that have arisen where parents wish to restrict the movement of a child from one house to another, in order to reduce the risk of that child’s exposure to the virus.
We then ask, what does this mean for you? How does COVID-19 affect your Parenting Orders, and what are your responsibilities in these unusual times?
Attempting to offer some guidance on this issue, the Law Council of Australia has recently published a top 10 guide for separated parents during COVID-19.
According to the guide: –
1. Parents must still meet their obligations where regulated by a Court Order, unless there is a reasonable excuse for non-compliance;
2. If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met (e.g. quarantine, travel restrictions, or because schools are closed), parents must use common sense to find solutions to challenges;
3. If a change in the parenting matter is anticipated, a parent must give the other parent plenty of notice and explanations so that adjustments can be made;
4. In the event that time arrangements with the other parent cannot occur, then parents are required to find other ways to maintain the connection with the child. This could include digital communications;
5. Parents are expected to make accommodations to the other parent, only if these accommodations are possible and in the best interests of the child;
6. Parents should strive to be open in their communication with the other party about the things you will each do in your respective households to limit the child’s exposure to the virus;
7. At this time, more than ever, there is a need for parents to find compromise in the interests of the child, so it is vital for parents to be solution focused and to be respectful and compassionate in all engagements;
8. There is a very high possibility that some people may lose their job or experience a reduction in their income during this period. Therefore, parents are expected to be understanding of the financial position and financial worry of the other parent, and should work together to find a solution;
9. Understanding that this situation will not resolve overnight, the Family Law Council recognises that parents will experience higher levels of stress, which will lead to family conflict. It is advised that parents remain calm and offer compassion when engaging with the other parent; and
10. Parents are encouraged to remember that they are the beacon for their children during this uncertain time.
Whilst we can appreciate that these are unprecedented times, we can expect further guidance to be delivered as more is known about the COVID-19. This creates a problem in itself as the information is constantly changing. Parents are therefore required to stay informed about their legal rights and responsibilities.
If you are concerned about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on your family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact us. Freedman and Gopalan Solicitors continue to be able to advise all clients experiencing family law issues by telephone, and arrangements can be made for video conferencing when appropriate.