Every evening we turn on our television and the Prime Minister urges the Australian public to practice ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’. We have been told to separate ourselves from others to ‘stop the spread’ and ‘flatten the curve’ of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
We have entered a stressful and unprecedented time and our family law team at Stone Group Lawyers are being besieged with questions about how to navigate co-parenting arrangements during these uncertain times: –
The Family Law Act provides a presumption that both parents have equal shared parental responsibility of children and there is an expectation that parents will consult with the other parent about major long-term decisions relevant to the children including, among other things, their education and health.
It is essential that parents discuss decisions such as school attendance and health with the other parent. Please follow this link for the latest advice from the Australian Government about health, schooling and more https://www.australia.gov.au/.
Put simply, if there are Court Orders in place, you are required to comply with them. Similarly, if there is a Parenting Plan in place, this should continue to be followed.
There may be some instances where non-compliance with Court Orders is necessary, but those instances must be extraordinary. Parents are expected to work together, making the children’s best interests the paramount consideration.
The Family Law Act states the primary consideration of the Court when determining a child’s best interests is the benefit to a child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents, and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm and from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
At the time of writing this article, the country is in Stage Two Lockdown. An example of a genuine reason to be non-compliant with Court Orders or a Parenting Plan at the time of writing this article would be if a parent is required by law to self-isolate (because they have returned to the state or have shown symptoms of COVID-19) or for jurisdictional reasons. Again, please follow this link for the latest advice from the Australian government about the pandemic https://www.australia.gov.au/.
At the time of writing this article, Queensland has restricted entry and exit at all state borders. However, should parents be separated by a border, the Queensland Government have provided an exemption for parties to comply with Federal Circuit Court of Australia or Family Court of Australia Orders. If you have to cross the border to comply with Orders, please ensure you take those Orders with you to evidence same.
Should you consider it absolutely necessary to withhold your child, we encourage parents to try to be flexible and accommodating and, if withholding is necessary, allow the child to spend extra time with the other parent once the situation is under control and facilitate additional telephone or Facetime communication during this time. Generally, parents can make alternate arrangements by consent, however, we strongly encourage you to do so in writing.
Parents should not use the pandemic as an opportunity to spite the other parent or have the child spend more time with them.
The Court’s will recommence in the normal manner in the not so distant future and we expect Judge’s will be displeased and critical of parents seen to be putting their own interests before those of the children by not complying with Court Orders or refusing to cooperate with the reasonable requests of the other parent. In circumstances where the Courts are likely to be inundated with cases on the other side of the pandemic, getting a Judge offside will only serve to detriment the prospects of a favourable outcome.
If you have any questions about co-parenting arrangements during the pandemic, you are not alone. The Family Law team at Stone Group Lawyers practice solely in family and relationship law and are available to guide you through this uncertain period. Please do not hesitate to give one of our family lawyers a call on 1300 088 440.
Disclaimer: This article is only meant to give you general information and should not be relied on as legal advice. Speak to one of our lawyers for more information.