Our family lawyers have been fielding a lot of questions in the past several weeks from worried parents regarding their children and parenting orders, so we thought it would be prudent to provide a brief update on the current guidelines surrounding the care of children and the operation of parenting court orders during this time.
Our lawyers warn that unless a reasonable excuse applies, compliance with parenting orders is required and expected, despite the pandemic. What falls within the scope of ‘reasonable excuse’ in relation to the current environment is not yet clear, and thus we would recommend that people use common sense and err on the side of caution.
In saying that, it would seem likely that the Court would apply a sympathetic approach in the event that a contravention of a court order which resulted from a reasonable and documented belief that it was in the children’s best interest to do so.
Generally speaking though, if there were Court issued parenting orders in place prior to the pandemic being announced, then the Court will expect that, as much as is practicably possible, these orders are still being complied with by the parents during this period.
This could mean that the parents agree amongst themselves as to a new changeover location if the local school is closed or to agree to a different schedule for the care of the children if grandparents or other caregivers are unavailable or practising social distancing as recommended.
One of the most important things to remember is that we are all going through a public health emergency and this is not the time to cut the other parent out or to make changes to the parenting orders that are unwarranted.
Of course, there are many concerned parents who are not sure what to do and are wanting to limit their children’s movements as much as possible. This is where a combined parenting effort should be made, and decisions to reduce the exposure of children to crowds and older people should be made and enforced jointly.
Parents are able to agree between themselves to vary the orders. If health concerns arise or the children/parents are required to be isolated or quarantined. The key is to make sure that communication lines are kept open with the other parent and that every effort should be made for the children to maintain their relationship with the other parent, even if it is by electronic means such as skype or on the phone.
The Court is unable to make a blanket statement pertaining to parenting orders and COVID-19 due to the multitude of factors that are involved and the complexities and requirements of each family’s individual circumstances. In addition, the Court has also been impacted by the pandemic and has changed its operation to accord with social distancing. If a matter is not urgent or dealing with family violence matters, the Court has the discretion to hear matters by telephone if necessary, and also has the ability to adjourn a matter until a more suitable time if it determines necessary.
Ultimately, the best interests of the child/ren is the paramount consideration, and now, more than ever, is the time for us all to band together and get through this national crisis as best we can.
Try to put all past hurt aside and focus on the children’s best interest at this difficult time.
Affinity Lawyers remains open and our family lawyers are able to assist in relation to all aspects of family law matters if required. Please do not hesitate to contact our office on 5563 8970 to arrange a telephone consultation with one of our professional lawyers if required.