Due to the Coronavirus pandemic that the world is experiencing at the moment, there have been changes to how we live our lives, and this seems to be changing constantly. On top of this, many parents are dealing with the added uncertainty of shared parenting arrangements. Many parents are unsure whether they are still required to send their children to the other parent in the wake of the social distancing rules, and as many children around Australia are staying home from school and self-isolating. It is important that parents understand their obligations and their options in relation to shared parenting during this time.
KEY TAKE OUTS:
- Family Courts remain open to assist parents during this time.
- Best interests of the Children remain paramount concern.
- Remain calm, be respectful and reasonable.
- Parties should first try to come to an arrangement on their own.
The Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court, the Honourable Will Alstergren has recently issued a media release to reassure parents that the Courts remain open to assist parents navigate these uncertain times. It is essential that the Child’s best interests remain the paramount concern, including their safety and wellbeing. While this obviously involves minimising their chances of exposure to the Coronavirus, there remains an obligation to comply with Orders made by the Court. Orders are made with the best interests of the children in mind, and therefore the arrangements contained in these orders are considered what is best for the children.
However, in the highly unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, there will be instances where it is not possible for parents to comply with Orders made by the Court, or it will become difficult. For example, some parents have the “pick up” destination as the Children’s school which is now closed. Or, someone in close contact with the Child/ren may have been diagnosed or exposed to Coronavirus. In addition, many State borders are now closed which may prevent the Child from spending time with one parent if they live in another State.
Where these circumstances arise, so long as it is safe to do so, parties should communicate with each other to discuss the difficulties they are encountering. The Court encourages the parties to attempt to find a reasonable solution to overcome those difficulties. Furthermore, the Court encourages the parties to consider any potential solutions sensibly and reasonably. It is important for the parties to remember that the Child’s interests are paramount, which include spending time with family members, however the health and risk of infection to the Children as well as members of the household are also important considerations.
If the parties are able to come to an agreement between themselves for new arrangements, even if they are temporary, it is important that the new arrangements be clearly communicated in writing. This will assist the parties in the event that there are future proceedings in relation to a breach of the existing Orders. The new arrangements need not be in the form of an official, legal document. It will be sufficient that the arrangements are clearly communicated via text, email, or WhatsApp. If the parties have managed to agree to new arrangements and would like these reflected in updated Consent Orders, the Court is accepting Applications electronically, with Orders made in Chambers without requiring either of the parties to attend. We are more than happy to assist in this process.
If the parties are not able to come to an agreement between themselves for new arrangements, you may wish to obtain legal advice. Most legal offices remain open for business, although through slightly different means, including telephone, Zoom or Skype conferences. There are also electronic mediation services available to assist.
Where the parties are not able to come to an agreement, or it is not safe to do so, parties are able to apply to the Court electronically and seek a variation of the Orders. However, it is important to remember that it is a requirement of the Court that prior to any applications made to the Court in relation to parenting that the parties have attended family dispute resolution, unless there are family violence concerns, child abuse or matters of urgency.
Before making the decision to not comply with current Court Orders, it is important for parents to remember that, ultimately it will be left to the Court to determine whether they have reasonable excuse to not adhere to Court Orders, or whether they have acted reasonably in the circumstances. Therefore, if Orders cannot be strictly adhered to at this time, it is important that the parties act in a way consistent with the purpose or spirit of the Orders. For example, maintaining a relationship with both parents, which may be achieved through videoconferencing, social media, telephone, Skype or Zoom.
At all times, if any of the parties have concerns about their safety or the safety of their Children, they should contact Police immediately and seek medical advice if required.
Our Family Law Services:
ABOUT LUISA GAETANI:
Luisa is a Senior Associate at Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers and head of our Family and Criminal Law divisions. Luisa has practiced solely in the areas of criminal and family law. It is her sensitive yet pragmatic approach that has allowed her to develop a strong rapport and build trusting relationships with her clients. Should a client’s matter proceed to court, Luisa has the skillset and experience to assist her clients through this process and where required, will draw upon her network of barristers to further benefit her client’s outcomes.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:
This blog is merely general and non specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever in relation to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.