Family law and co-parenting in difficult times
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought additional stress and uncertainty to many families involved in co-parenting which, by its nature, can be stressful enough.
School closures, state and territory border closures, additional pressure on healthcare workers and providers of essential services, job loss, and isolation all pose significant challenges to those families with shared parenting arrangements.
This is a time to put conflict aside and take a practical and sensible approach to co-parenting.
If you or your children are in danger, please dial 000 or contact your local police station immediately.
Parenting orders – managing in difficult circumstances
- As always, the safety, welfare and best interests of the children should remain a priority. If court orders are in place, it is expected that they be complied with, including facilitating time spent by the children with each parent pursuant to those orders.
- Where strict compliance is not possible, or compliance puts the safety of the child at risk, the parties should wherever possible, communicate to identify practical and reasonable solutions.
- Ideally, any agreement to vary the arrangements of existing orders should be in writing, whether by text message, email or other app.
- Parents and caregivers can facilitate negotiations through their lawyers, and applications to vary consent orders may be filed electronically with the Court.
- Where an agreement cannot be reached, one party may consider applying to the court for assistance, including varying the orders.
Co-parenting arrangements generally – practical tips and considerations
Be proactive – although agreed parenting arrangements may not have changed dramatically yet, anticipate that they may need to, and communicate now to put a plan in place. Obstacles to consider include school closures or extended school holidays, different changeover venues (with some venues now closed), potential lockdowns and additional demands on one or both parents such as health care workers and essential services employees.
- Traditional work arrangements between parents may in fact reverse as full-time employees find themselves out of work and part-time and casual workers, for example nurses, become more in demand.
- Parenting arrangements may need to change during these circumstances, at least for the short or medium term. The best interests of the children and the intention of the orders at the time of making is key.
- Parties should not manipulate the current crisis to seek to unilaterally change parenting arrangements, such as reducing another parties time or increasing their own time, without agreement.
- With many travel plans cancelled, parents and caregivers may need to re-think planned activities with children. There are numerous resources online providing creative ways to keep little minds (and older minds!) occupied during these times.
- If one parent or caregiver is missing out on scheduled time with a child due to the current crisis, be generous in facilitating communication between that parent and the child – consider using apps such as FaceTime, Skype or Zoom, in addition to the usual phone contact.
- Talk to your children about the current situation and try to remain calm and positive. How you explain what is happening to your children will depend on their age, level of maturity and the individual circumstances.
- Be creative and resourceful but try to maintain, as far as practicable, regular routines such as personal hygiene, healthy meals and bedtimes.
Family courts arrangements
The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (‘the Courts’) continue to operate but have made significant changes to their processes. How the Courts continue to function may continue to change as the situation evolves.
If you have a matter in court, it is important to stay in touch with your lawyer, or the Court itself if you are not legally represented, to see how the changes affect you.
Presently, will be conducted through both electronic/telephonic means, as well as face to face hearings for which strict in-court protocol to manage risk will be maintained.
Most court hearings and events will be by telephone or video conferencing, with some non-urgent matters to be postponed.
Documents will be filed electronically, and registry services will be primarily provided remotely by telephone or online.
We are here to help
The coronavirus pandemic is an evolving situation with a number of health and business orders issued at federal, state and territory levels. Government directions, advice and laws will likely continue to change as new information and developments arise. It is important to stay informed of these updates through reliable sources.
Effective co-parenting means putting differences aside and working together to make decisions and care arrangements for children that are in their best interests.
We understand that this is a difficult and distressing time for many. Our firm infrastructure facilitates the ability for our lawyers to work from home in order to continue to serve our clients and assist them through these difficult circumstances.
We will continue to provide advice and assistance through email, telephone, and video conferencing across all areas of family law.
The media release statement from the Chief Justice of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, His Honour Chief Justice Alstergren, can be found here:
This article is intended to provide general information only. You should obtain professional advice before you undertake any course of action.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 03 8415 5600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.