The current COVID19 pandemic has required many of us to drastically alter our way of life in a matter of weeks and this in turn is having a significant impact on families and arrangements for the care of children.
For separated parents and carers, the additional stressors and uncertainties of the COVID19 pandemic can make navigating the Family Law process and co-parenting more challenging. In recent weeks we have given urgent advice to our concerned clients about how the COVID19 virus will impact their ability to comply with parenting orders and the options available to them if disputes arise as a consequence of the current pandemic.
Guidance from the Courts
On 26 March 2020, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren, released a statement regarding parenting orders and the COVIC 19 pandemic. The statement provides useful guidance to parents concerned about their capacity to comply with parenting orders in the face of the current and potential restrictions and the capacity of the Court to assist them with these issues.
The key points from the statement are:
- The Courts remain open to assist parties and provide parents with general guidance;
- Parents and Carers must continue to act in the best interests of their children;
- Parents and Carers are expected to comply with Court Orders in relation to parenting arrangements, including facilitating time being spent by children with each parent or carer pursuant to parenting orders.
Complying with Parenting Orders in the pandemic
If parents face circumstances where social distancing restrictions make complying with orders impracticable (for instance where orders designate changeovers are to occur at a contact centre or school which is not presently operating), they are encouraged to take the following steps:
- As a first step, and where it is safe to do so, parents should communicate with each other about their ability to comply with the current orders and attempt to find a practical solution to these difficulties. If you are communicating with the other parent in these circumstances, it is important for both parents to always consider the safety and best interests of the child, while appreciating the concerns of the other parent when attempting to reach new or revised arrangements. It is also important for parties to have regard to the likelihood of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household, such as grandparents and those who may have underlying health conditions.
Where Agreement can be reached
- If parents and carers are able to reach an agreement on new or temporary parenting arrangements, they should put the terms of this agreement in writing in a document, or otherwise by email, text message or Whatsapp message. This is particularly important for parties who are presently involved in or likely to be involved in later family law hearings.
- If parties wish to formalise their agreement as orders, they have the option of putting consent orders to the Court electronically by filing them with an Application for Consent Orders. We are able to assist parties in formalising the terms of consent orders for this purpose.
Where parties are unable to reach agreement
- Parties who are not able to agree to vary parenting arrangements, or it is not safe for them to do so, are advised to keep children safe until the dispute has been resolved. Parents in this situation should take steps to ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the child/ren consistent with the parenting arrangements such by video conferencing, social media or by telephone.
- Where orders cannot be strictly adhered to, it is important that parties ensure the purpose or spirit of the orders are respected when considering altering the arrangements and that parents and carers act in the best interest of the children at all times.
- If parties cannot agree to alternate arrangements, or it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents have real concerns, parents still have the option to make an application to the Court electronically to seek a variation of orders.
If you have concerns about implementing or abiding parenting arrangements in the context of the COVID19 pandemic, our team of highly qualified family lawyers are here to assist you. We have adopted measures to ensure that we continue to be able to provide tailored advice while prioritising the health and safety of all of our clients and their families during this period.
We are able to provide fierce representation in contested Court hearings where required, but also pride ourselves on reaching swift, amicable agreements for parenting arrangements through:-
- Arbitration; and
- Collaboration with peers.
Dorter Family Lawyers and Mediators offer specialist family law advice in McMahons Point on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, and are available to assist you with any questions you may have about your parenting arrangements. Please get in touch with us on (02) 9929 8840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is an overview only and should not be considered as legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.