Parents are naturally deeply concerned about the safety of their children and how the COVID-19 virus will affect their lives. Complying with parenting orders can also become difficult or impractical.
However, despite these difficulties, it is the primary responsibility of parents and carers to act in the best interests of their children ensuring their safety and wellbeing. This means COMPLYING with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. In the circumstances that it is impractical to follow the orders, Chief Judge Alstergren of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia has provided a statement outlining a step by step process to assist with finding practical and safe solutions. The statement can be found here.
|Step 1: Communicate about practicality of compliance and find practical solutions
|Step 2: New agreements should be put in writing
Agreements should ideally be put in writing, even if by way of email, SMS or WhatsApp between each other. This is important for later family law hearings.
|Step 3: Request further guidance if you cannot reach an agreement
You may contact a lawyer or the Family Relationships Advice Line can provide information, advice and telephone-based Family Dispute Resolution services. They can be contacted on 1800 050 321 and on their website.
|Step 4: OPTIONAL – File consent orders with the Court
If consent orders have been developed to outline new or varied parenting orders, applications can be filed with the Court. We can assist you with preparing and filing your Consent Orders.
|Step 5: LAST RESORT- Approach the court if you are unable to reach an agreement
If parties are unable to agree to vary the arrangement, or if it is unsafe to do so, and the parents have real concerns, parties may approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders.
|Step 6: Unable to reach an agreement
If there is no agreement, parents should keep their children safe until the dispute can be resolved. This means that you should ensure each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements such as by videoconferencing, social media, or telephone.
At all times, parents or carers must act reasonably or have a reasonable excuse for not complying. The below are examples of reasonable and unreasonable excuses and demands.
- Self-isolation – If a parent is required to self-isolate, it is best to make alternative plans for the care of the child and this may mean spending extra time with the other parent. Make up time can be requested.
- Fears of Family Violence- if there are concerns of violence, you must contact the police immediately on 000. Please also read our guide on Family Violence here for further information regarding intervention orders.
- If a housemate or family member who lives with one of the parents tests positive to COVID-19 – to prevent further contraction, it is advised as per the Victorian Government Directives that you self-isolate including anyone who came into contact with the tested person that includes the child.
- Demanding COVID testing every time prior to spending time with the child – This is impractical and unreasonable considering the wait time for results and can impact the total time a parent has with the child. Covid-19 is no excuse to withhold a child from spending time with the non-residential parent.
- You do not believe that the other parent is capable of home schooling – Schools are doing their best to assist children and parents during home schooling. If however one parent does not speak English and the child cannot complete the schooling on their own, the parents should discuss new arrangements while still facilitating time for both parents appropriately and fairly.