It’s a stressful, difficult time for all parents at the moment, with the threat of imminent school closures, changes to work arrangements and the general absence of our children’s favourite choice of pasta and pasta sauce at the supermarkets. Even with new episodes of Bluey, parents across the country are feeling the strain.
For separated parents, COVID-19 poses an extra dilemma – how to successfully co-parent under these new (and frequently changing) circumstances?
Are my Court Orders still in force?
Orders are still in force, even under these circumstances. You should still meet your obligations, unless you have a reasonable excuse. We anticipate that the Court will show some leniency, where parents have taken steps to try and overcome COVID-19 challenges with orders – however, the Courts are not going to accept COVID-19 alone as an excuse not to abide by orders.
If travel restrictions, quarantines or school closures mean your orders are no longer workable, you should try to reach a sensible alternative solution. For example, if changeover usually occurs at a child’s activity which is now cancelled, a change of changeover location may be appropriate and enable children to continue to spend time with both parents, in accordance with the usual arrangements.
While changes are happening at a rapid rate, discussing possible alternatives with your child’s other parent, before changes happen, is best – but when this isn’t possible, give as much advance warning as possible, with a brief explanation of your proposal to vary the arrangements.
Share parenting during self isolation & travel restrictions
If, due to requirements to self-isolate, or due to travel restrictions or other Government-imposed bans, it is simply not possible to comply with your orders, then you should, where possible, facilitate your child using technology to maintain contact with their other parent – Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or an old-fashioned phone call – are all better than no contact at all.
If appropriate, you might also want to consider offering additional time at a point in the future, in lieu of time missed due to COVID-19 issues.
It’s not easy, but parents should give (and expect) some flexibility from their co-parent while we all try to get through the coming weeks.
What if one of us has to self-isolate?
Now is the time to make a plan for if you, or your child’s other parent, needs to self-isolate.
Consider whether you need to put in place some back-up plans for child care/work, in the event that your children come into your care whilst their other parent is required to self-isolate, or vice versa. If possible, reach agreement with their other parent now, so the plan can go into action smoothly, if required.
Also consider your plans in the event that you and your children are required to self-isolate together. Communicate your plan to your child’s other parent and make sure you know their plan.
What if my children show symptoms?
If your child shows symptoms, you should of course obtain medical advice and follow it – but you should also communicate with the child’s other parent about what is happening. If possible, you might consider calling your child’s other parent whilst you are in medical appointments, so they can hear the advice firsthand.
If your child is required to self-isolate, as we’ve recommended above, try to keep contact with the parent who is not in isolation by electronic means.
We had holiday plans – can I still go?
Parents should follow closely official government travel guidelines – so overseas travel is off the cards for at least the April, and possibly the July, school holidays.
Domestic travel needs to be considered very carefully – will travel result in your children being more likely to be exposed to COVID-19? Are there adequate medical facilities where you are travelling to? Are you prepared to remain in your holiday location for an extended period of time? While generally holidays are a great thing for children (and we could all use a holiday, about now), given the uncertainty about future travel bans, you may wish to re-consider your travel plans.
Communication with your child’s other parent will be crucial over the coming weeks, to navigate COVID-19 challenges. But above all, you and your co-parent need to exercise caution and common-sense, to keep your children, and yourselves healthy and well.
The matters contained in this article are the opinion of the writer by way of general information and are not legal advice. You should seek legal advice in relation to your personal circumstances before acting on any of the matters raised in this article.
Monique Robb is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law. She is Special Counsel in the Family and Relationship Law team at Lander & Rogers, which has the largest family law practice in Australia. Monique has worked solely in the area of Family Law since 2007, including working as an Associate in the Federal Circuit Court. Monique acts in matters in all areas of family law, including parenting (custody) matters, property matters, child support, financial agreements, asset protection and matters where one, or both parties, reside overseas. For more information, contact Monique by email or at +61 2 8020 7879