Recent Australian Government announcements surrounding COVID-19, and the topic of social distancing during the outbreak has left parents conflicted between breaching parenting orders and restricting their children’s movements for safety.
This has led to confusion in regard to how the COVID-19 coronavirus affects parenting arrangements.
The Honourable William Alstergren, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, has released a statement on the topic of Parenting Orders and COVID-19 which provides some guidance to families in these changing circumstances.
The effect of COVID-19 on parenting orders
Parents must continue to act in the best interests of their child or children per section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). In doing so they must take into account the need to maintain the child’s relationship with each of their parents and the child’s safety and well-being.
Parties must follow court orders in regards to parenting and parenting plans, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to do so (s70NAE of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)).
However, due to the current circumstances, parents may be unable to strictly follow parenting orders.
Reasons parents may be unable to follow parenting orders during COVID-19:
Closures of schools/ restaurants
The statement by the Honourable William Alstergren encourages parties to actively communicate about their ability to comply with orders, and where possible, find solutions to problems that may be present due to COVID-19. That solution should be child focussed and must put the children’s interest first.
If parties cannot follow orders in the short term, they must ensure that the purpose of the orders are respected. This may involve maintaining a child’s relationship with their other parent through various forms of technology such as video conference calling, social media, telephone calls or text messages. Parents must be consistent and act in the best interest of the child until such time that the orders can be complied with again or varied to suit the new situation.
What to do if a party fails to follow parenting orders during COVID-19?
If a party fails to follow parenting orders, it is important to note that courts remain open to assist parties and there can be consequences for any failure to comply, particularly when there is no reasonable excuse for doing so. In relation to having a reasonable excuse we suggest that parties ensure that they are following the government guidelines for appropriate behaviour as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
How to handle parenting orders during COVID-19:
If you have court orders, you must continue to follow them unless you have a reasonable excuse not to do so.
Parents must try to work through problems and changes required due to the current circumstances with the other parent and come up with an agreement, if that is safe for you and the children.
Parties should be guided by the government directions regarding COVID-19 and the statement of the Honourable Chief Justice.
If parties cannot reach an agreement regarding their child’s care arrangements they should seek professional help to assist them with that.
If you require assistance with a parenting orders or the care arrangements for your child (where orders are not in place), please contact Andersons' family law team who would be more than happy to assist you through the process.