Latest update as at Tuesday 3 August:
The Queensland Government has issued updated guidance clarifying arrangements for separated parents under lockdown restrictions for residents in South-East Queensland (including 11 Local Government Areas). These restrictions apply from 4pm on 31 July 2021 until 4pm on 8 August 2021.
The restrictions previously specified that children may only move between households where a court order permits those arrangements. This meant that a parenting plan or informal agreement between parents providing for children's living arrangements would not suffice and that the children would be required to remain with the parent with whom they were living as at 4pm on 31 July 2021 until the end of the lockdown period (See below for our original update).
Pleasingly, the Government has released an update this afternoon clarifying the arrangements for separated parents. The Directive now permits existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children to continue, regardless of whether or not those arrangements are court ordered. It does not however, permit or include contact with people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 such as someone aged over 70.
The update also clarifies that:
If you are an essential worker, alternate care arrangements are permitted for children under the age of 18, whilst you are undertaking essential work; and
You are permitted to leave your home to provide care for a family member.
The Government has, however, requested that where parents, guardians or children are required to leave their home for these purposes, movement is restricted, and once the child/children are in the guardian’s care, that they stay at home, other than in essential circumstances. It has also been requested that where a grandparent or person aged 60 or over is undertaking that care, the grandparent or person be fully vaccinated.
Original update published Monday 2 August:
The Queensland Government has announced new lockdown restrictions for residents in South-East Queensland (including 11 Local Government Areas) providing that as at 4pm on 31 July 2021, residents will not be permitted to leave their home unless it is for essential purposes.
One such purpose applies to parents complying with obligations pursuant to court orders although, importantly, this has changed from previous rules that were in place. The latest Queensland Health Directive published on 1 August 2021 provides that:
" 24. A person must not enter a locked down area unless the person:
c. is entering to fulfil an obligation relating to court-ordered or court directed shared parenting or child contact...
25. Any person who is in a locked down area from the commencement of this Direction or who is permitted to enter a locked down area under paragraph 24 may also leave the locked down area:
c. ...to fulfil an obligation relating to court-ordered or court directed shared parenting or child contact..."
This means that children may only move between households where a court order permits those arrangements. A parenting plan or informal agreement between parents providing for children's living arrangements will not suffice. In other words, unless a court order provides for the children's movements between households, the children must remain with the parent with whom they were living as at 4pm on 31 July 2021 until the end of the lockdown period.
As at the date of this article, the current health directive is valid until 4pm on 8 August 2021, although this remains subject to change.
Parents should ensure they abide by any parenting orders that are in place. Parenting orders are binding and the latest COVID-19 restrictions may not be deemed to be a reasonable excuse for breaching an order, and serious consequences may follow. If, however, the child is unwell, exhibiting symptoms or has been a close contact of a person diagnosed with COVID-19, this may give rise to a reasonable excuse for contravening parenting orders. Similarly, if a parent is unwell, or if they have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, this may also give rise to a reasonable excuse for a contravention of parenting orders.
It is important to remember that despite the current lockdowns in various states across Australia, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia remain open and are conducting their usual daily court lists. There is a special process in place to deal with any urgent matters arising as a result of COVID-19. Where the court cannot sit in person, hearings can be conducted by video conference or phone conference.
The courts have urged parents to exercise common sense and to work cooperatively to ensure the health and safety of their children.
If you are concerned about your obligations and the arrangements for your children, our team of experienced family lawyers at Lander & Rogers are available to discuss your options.
All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.