The challenges facing all of us in this COVID-19 situation are unprecedented and, for many families who have children living across households, there is uncertainty as to how these changes will impact on their shared care and spend time arrangements.
The advice from the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court (“the Courts”) is that all parenting arrangements, whether through the Courts or informal, remain in place. However, the Courts acknowledge that will be circumstances where the COVID-19 situation could make compliance difficult and, in some cases, impossible.
The following is some of the ways the COVID-19 situation may impact upon your parenting arrangements.
Movement Between Households
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) have confirmed that adhering to parenting arrangements under court Orders and Parenting Plans, are permissible exemptions to the Stage 3 and 4 restrictions that limit movement and visitors to a house.
This means that, if you are leaving your house to facilitate the arrangements in your Orders, such as a changeover or having the children visit your home for spend time, then this is allowed under current Victorian restrictions.
It is recommended that you carry a copy of your Court Orders and/or Parenting Plan with you, or have a copy accessible on your phone, should you need to produce them if required. If you do not have a Court Order or Parenting Plan, please contact us for assistance.
As always, there is also an exception to the restrictions where a person is at risk of, or fleeing, family violence.
Self-Isolation and Quarantine
The Courts have an expectation that parents and carers will act in the best interests of their children. This includes continuing to comply with the parenting arrangements as best they can.
Should one parent need to self-isolate or quarantine and the children are in their care, then the children will be required to remain with them for the duration of the isolation or quarantine period.
Any temporary changes to spending time should be discussed and agreed upon with the other parent and where possible documented in writing. If you cannot reach an agreement, or cannot do so safely, we can assist you with this.
With the closures of schools, extracurricular activities, parks and restaurants, many families are now finding that their agreed place of changeover is no longer accessible to them.
If possible, it is best to agree on an alternative changeover location that is suitable for both parents. If it is safe to do so, consider if the changeover can occur at the parents’ homes.
Shared Parenting Across State Borders
Due to the various state governments closing their borders to Victorians, families who have children moving between households across the border over the school holidays may be impacted by this.
As the situation is changing rapidly, we recommend that before travelling, you check the current restrictions in the relevant state. If you are permitted to travel, you will be required to produce a copy of your Court Orders or Parenting Plan when crossing the border. If you do not have a written agreement or Court Order, please contact us.
If it is the case that you are not permitted to cross the state border, then consider arranging for extra video and/or telephone calls during this time to help maintain the children’s relationship with the other parent.
Any changes to parenting arrangements between parents has the potential to impact on Child Support Agency (“CSA“) obligations, as does any changes to a parent’s income. You must contact the CSA if there are any changes to your circumstances.
In all instances, parents and carers are expected to act reasonably and, if temporary changes need to be made due to COVID-19 restrictions, consideration is given to both the children’s health and well-being, along with the purpose and spirit of the Orders.
It is important to remember that the children themselves will be missing their friends, grandparents, and extended family members and will need a little extra reassurance from their parents at this time.
The challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is not in itself an excuse to limit or withhold the children’s contact with the other parent.
To discuss how COVID-19 may be impacting your parenting and family law matter, please contact us on 5303 0281 or at [email protected] to make an appointment to speak with one of our family lawyers.
The information on this website is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for individual advice about your particular circumstances.
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