The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted all our lives. Workplaces have shut en masse, as have entertainment venues, most shops and – other than for the children of emergency workers – schools as well.
We are all experiencing great uncertainty and anxiety as to how long these necessary arrangements will remain in place in order to stop the spread of the disease. One area obviously impacted by the pandemic is parenting arrangements as well as other family law matters. In this article we’ll provide a brief overview of the main issues involved and urge anyone with questions or concerns to get in touch with Felicio Law Firm for further assessment during this difficult time.
What is the impact on parenting arrangements?
The need for social distancing, the ending of interstate and international travel, the closure of many venues, the stopping of group sporting activities and the need for many individuals to self-isolate – all of these developments have had a sudden and serious impact on the arrangements parents have made when they have separated but share parenting of their children.
Maintaining a relationship with both parents is obviously crucial for children but in these dangerous times, this may now not be possible. Children who regularly travel interstate to spend time with one parent will obviously need to rely on FaceTime or Skype in order to maintain a relationship with the remotely located parent for the time being. For those parents who live geographically close to each other, regular handover spots such as shops and schools are likely now closed. Parents will need to think more laterally about handing over the children to the other parent at the usual time. Is there an alternative neutral location where you can practise social distancing and still hand over the children? If not, for the moment (unless there are family domestic violence or abuse issues involved), children should be delivered door-to-door between the separate houses of the parents.
As ever, it’s important to remember that under the Family Law Act 1975 the best interests of the child are paramount. This means that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic can’t be used by one parent as a “reasonable excuse” – the necessary legal hurdle – to limit or stop a child’s time with the other parent. Expert legal opinion should be sought if you plan to change the living or visiting arrangements of your children in relation to the other parent.
Making the decision to breach a parenting order because you believe the other parent does not maintain appropriate standards of hygiene, or does not practise social distancing when in custody of the children, may not qualify as a reasonable excuse for your breach. Seek legal advice if in doubt.
It’s also important to note that the virus causing the disease more severely impacts the elderly and so, if you need to continue working and your child’s school is closed, if at all possible it’s advisable to avoid having grandparents care for the children.
If temporary changes to the parenting arrangements are forced on you by COVID-19 restrictions, it’s sensible to record these in writing via text message, email or correspondence through lawyers so as to avoid a later ‘he said-she said’ contest.
Do child support payments continue?
Many people are losing their jobs or having their hours reduced as a result of the pandemic and will be unable to meet existing child support arrangements.
Speak to an experienced legal representative or the Federal government’s Child Support Agency if you think you will need your child support payment reassessed because your income has drastically changed. The advice is similar if there is a spousal maintenance order in place.
The status of court proceedings
If you have a family matter currently proceeding through the courts, expect delays while government measures to stop the spread of the disease are in place.
To date the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have announced it will continue to take new applications and hear matters that are already before it, but it has changed the priority given to certain cases and implemented social distancing measures within the court. Family reports will continue but all non-urgent parenting trials have been adjourned to a later date.
Communicate and adapt
The challenge posed by the pandemic is one of the most trying we’ve faced. For parents, keeping regular and honest communication between both parties on everything from observing the safety measures to monitoring the physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of the children (and yourselves) is vital to getting through to the other side. Adopting a flexible and adaptive approach to parenting arrangements will also help in unprecedented times.
Felicio Law Firm had made a priority of getting across the parenting and family law issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have broad experience advising NSW and Queensland clients on these matters and offer a compassionate and considerate ear in these testing, difficult times. If you’re unsure about where you stand on sudden changes to parenting arrangements, call us Erina & Central Coast family lawyers now on (02) 4365 4249 or firstname.lastname@example.org