Parenting and coronavirus
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One of the most common questions being asked of family lawyers over the last few weeks has been whether separated parents need to comply with court orders during the Covid-19 pandemic and how to manage changeovers if schools close.
Parents are worried about balancing the consequences of breaching parenting orders against wanting to limit their children’s movements to keep them healthy.
Parents need to comply with court orders wherever possible. However:
- Is possible that some parents may try to take advantage of the pandemic to attempt to deprive the other parent of time with their children. Parents should carefully reflect on their personal motives and remember that such conduct might later be subject to court scrutiny. The best interests of the children and their right to an ongoing relationship with both parents should remain the paramount consideration.
- Remember that even when court orders are in place, parents can agree to vary those orders so to appropriately manage social distancing and isolation where necessary. In these challenging and unprecedented times, communication between parents has
never been more important.
- Parents who can collaborate with the other may also want to consider limiting the amount of change overs the children are doing and consider more ‘block time’. For example, should the children spend 2 nights a week, then 3 nights the following week with a parent, consider a collaborative change to this, doing 5 nights in a row as a trial during Covid time, provided that the age of the children is appropriate to do so.
- Parents should remember that if the other parent alleges that you have “contravened” parenting orders at court, you would need to be able to show cogent reasons at the time and that you were “acting reasonably“. Notice in advance to the other parent of any change is not only proper courtesy its essential to comply with court requirements.
- Should parents feel the need to vary parenting orders, remember that “make-up” time is always a good way to ensure that one parent does not ‘miss out’ on time and to promote the prospect of collaboration and agreement to any proposed change. For example, if the children miss a weekend with one parent, that weekend can be made up, or be a ‘credit’ weekend, for use at a future date.
- Remember that FaceTime always remains a good option between seeing each parent.
- In closing “reasonable excuse” (the basis on which a parenting order might be breached) is not the mere existence of Covid-19. A specific, genuine ‘risk’ to the health of your child is. We can assist you to decide if your specific circumstances amount to a genuine risk.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused issues in compliance with parenting arrangements. At this stage, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has made it clear that the pandemic is not sufficient reason to breach parenting orders and that all efforts should be made to comply with the current arrangements.
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