Last night after the Federal Cabinet meeting finished at around 9pm, our Government announced more changes to increase restrictions on the public’s movements and further limit what “non-essential” businesses must now cease trading, as part of efforts to slow spread of the COVID19 virus.
The advice we are getting and why some activities are now prohibited (but not others), is confusing, and leaves room for disagreements about what it all means.
For example, schools are still open, and parents are being told it is safe to send their children. However, schools are asking parents to keep their children at home, if possible.
No-one has mentioned the situation with day-care for 0-5s, or talked about risks to them, but for anyone with children this age, anecdotally, many of the centres are now emptying out.
For the moment, these services remain open and it is up to parents to decide whether to send children, or not.
School holiday trips cancelled
Travel is also now a complicated issue, and with school holidays on the horizon, this issue is one that many separated parents are understandably concerned about.
With many states closing their borders, the clear take-home message from authorities is that we should not be travelling anywhere outside of our local area. This includes for holidays.
Commonwealth Health Information
With so much uncertainty, it is important to rely on accurate information.
The Commonwealth Government has a website with up-to-date information that you can look to here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert
Separated Parent Communication
These changes affect everyone, but present particular challenges for single parents who may have real difficulties communicating with their ex-spouses to talk through decisions about their children – such as changing arrangements for pick-ups/drop-offs that may need to be made in a hurry.
Many separated parents rely on email or text to communicate. This may be because there are ongoing issues with Family Violence (or allegations about this), or because their former partner/spouse is unreasonable, or because they have been advised by their lawyers to do so.
All of these reasons may create opportunities for significant misunderstandings and further conflict.
If there are family violence orders in place as well, this adds yet another layer of complexity.
In addition, the rapidly-changing situation with COVID19 means agreements about children made one day, may need to be changed the next.
How to deal with child access & changeovers during Coronavirus changes
1. Follow Court Orders
Contravention of Orders
2. Compromise with your co-parent
3. Try emailing with a follow-up text message
4. Arrange telephone mediation
5. Vary Court Orders using a Parenting Plan
6. Use a co-parenting App
Navigating Coronavirus & shared parenting
Although many separated parents may feel overwhelmed by the decisions that need to be made now and in the coming weeks, parents will need to find flexible solutions to deal with our changing circumstances.
Now, more than ever, cooperation where possible, and good communication about children’s health, safety and wellbeing is required.
If it is not possible to resolve communication issues, or the welfare of children is at risk and you need the advice of a lawyer, or to approach a Court for urgent Orders, changes and limitations on access to Court services in response to COVID19 are likely to create some delays.
Getting advice earlier, rather than waiting until you are in crisis in such circumstances may mean there is more time to find solutions, with the support and guidance of a lawyer.
The contents of this publication are the opinion of the writer, do not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should seek formal legal advice from a lawyer in relation to your personal circumstances before making decisions on the issues raised in this publication.
Celia Oosterhoff is a Partner at Pigott Stinson in the Sydney CBD. She is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law, a Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, trained Collaborative Lawyer, and is also on the Legal Aid Panel of Independent Children’s Lawyers,to represent the interests of vulnerable children in matters before the Family and Federal Circuit Courts. Celia’s experience includes over 12 years exclusive practice as a Family Lawyer in boutique and broader service small and medium-sized city and suburban practices, international commercial experience, and two years as Research Associate to a Judge of the Appeal Division of the Family Court. For more information, contact Celia by email or phone at +61 2 8251 7777.