Parenting arrangements for separated parents during the COVID 19 Pandemic

Tips & News - Parenting arrangements for separated parents during the COVID 19 Pandemic

A young boy with his arm around his father, talking

The current COVID19 pandemic is having an enormous impact on all Australians. The situation has evolved incredibly rapidly and it seems will continue to do so.

In the context of separation and divorce, many parents are becoming more anxious about the implications for their parenting arrangements and Court Orders.

We have been contacted by many separated parents concerned about the safety of their children and seeking guidance as to whether they should maintain or change their parenting arrangements and/or comply with their Parenting Orders. There are no “one size fits all” solutions as every family situation is different but there are helpful guidelines.

Yesterday, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, The Honorable William Alstergren made a statement providing parents with some general guidance as to what is expected by the Court in these “unprecedented times”.

To summarise, the Courts stated that parents are expected to comply with Orders and facilitate time being spent by the children with each parent or carer. However, the Court also recognised that situations may arise when strict compliance may not possible or extremely difficult.

So what does this mean in practice?

The overarching advice on how best to respond in these extraordinary times is to stay calm and make common sense decisions that are in the best interest of children. This effectively means balancing health risks with maintaining contact arrangements between parents and children.

In the current situation (and until/if there is a further lock down) the general advice is to maintain existing parenting arrangements unless doing so presents a greater health risk than the risk that inherently exists in the broader community. Both parents should observe advice regarding physical distancing and staying at home unless absolutely necessary to best protect themselves and their family.

If one parent, or someone in close contact with that parent, has been exposed to COVID19 this is a reason to restrict the movement of a child from one house to another. It is important to note that the Court specifically uses the word “has” rather than “may have” been exposed in this context.

Should an exposure situation arise the Court recommends that the parents or carers should communicate and try to find a practical solution that is “reasonable” and “sensible” whilst following the Infectious Diseases or Health Department’s advice re: self-isolation. The Court emphasized that each parent should consider the safety and best interests of the children but also the concerns of the other parent when discussing new arrangements. If children are not able to spend time with a parent due to community lock down or self-isolation then phone, FaceTime and social media channels should be utilized to maintain a connection.

Day to day practical issues can arise too. For example, if changeover is to normally occur at a school which is closed, we have been advising our clients to either find a new location half way between the houses or, if it safe, to agree to a drop off at the other parent’s house.

Should we move to the next level being a community lockdown, we expect that there will be updated guidelines regarding protocols for handover. However we understand that in other jurisdictions, for example Italy and France, changeover has been allowed to occur during lock down.

We also recommend that any amended short-term arrangements ideally be in writing between parents, whether by text, email or Whatsapp messaging.

As always, parents are encouraged to communicate about their children as long as it is safe to do so. Parents who have open communication are the best equipped to ensure that their children and their households remain safe during this pandemic. If you or your child is in immediate danger, you should contact your local police and/or seek medical advice if required.

So the reality is that we find ourselves in uncharted territory, and we need to make it simple as possible rather than more complicated. It boils down to working with the other parent to make the most practical and objectively reasonable decisions in the best interest of your children. Any short-term changes you agree to make can be adapted as the situation within the community regarding the virus evolves.

If you have any concerns about your parenting arrangements, or are concerned about how you should communicate with your former partner about COVID-19, we highly recommend that you reach out to your divorce advisor, family lawyer or contact a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner.

Both Jacqueline and Anna are here to assist you through these unsettling times. We hope that you and your loved ones remain safe and well.

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Collaborating together with Jacqueline helped us focus on the key priorities – our children

We wanted to separate amicably and not ruin our future relationship by fighting each other using lawyers - especially because we will be in each others lives frequently as we continue to work together & raise our kids. It's an awful situation that you just don't need to make worse.

Mother of three
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