As the Australian Government continues to place restrictions on the movements of citizens during the current COVID-19 pandemic, what does this mean for parenting orders made before the pandemic?
Complying with court orders
Court Orders should still be complied with during the pandemic if possible – meaning that children will still need to move between parties.
Before COVID-19’s arrival in Australia, a parent would be regarded as being in breach of a Court Order if they withheld the children from the other parent, without a reasonable excuse.
We do not yet know what the Court will consider a ‘reasonable excuse’ in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents need to be careful that if any virus-related circumstances prevent them from complying with Orders that their behaviour does not leave them open to breach allegations.
As an example, your dissatisfaction with the other party’s level of hygiene is unlikely to be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ for withholding time. If however quarantine or virus-related circumstances prevent you from complying with your Orders, one would assume that the court would consider this a reasonable excuse.
We recommend that parents make sure they are proactive with communicating any issues with each other and document reasons for not complying with Orders, including what restrictions and health directives were current at the time.
During the pandemic, a greater level of communication may be needed between parents to try and agree upon arrangements that are not in accordance with Orders. If you are proposing changes to arrangements, provide the other parent with as much notice as possible, set out clearly your health concerns and any recommendations you have received from medical professionals, and ensure you communicate in writing.
If you or your children are required to self-quarantine such that the other party will miss out on time with the children, offer make up time.
Telephone calls, FaceTime or Skype are also a good way to keep the other parent in touch with the children during this time.
Where changeovers would ordinarily occur at schools or a public place, consider what alternative locations would be possible for changeover and make proposals to the other parent. If emotions have abated since orders were made and there are no issues of family violence, it may be possible for changeovers to occur at your home instead of a public place.
If you or your children are displaying symptoms of coronavirus, inform the other party immediately and try to work together to implement the safest possible plan for care arrangements.
Where grandparents or anyone in a high-risk category would ordinarily be involved in care for children, consider alternative caregivers or supervisors. In the case of supervision, younger family members or Contact Centres may be more appropriate and enquiries should be made with them so that contingency plans are put in place.
If you need legal advice about this topic or any family law issue, please do not hesitate to contact Macrossan & Amiet. We remain open and are ready to answer your questions.