The rapid spread of coronavirus in Australia and overseas has undoubtedly caused considerable alarm and panic. The response to the virus has been unprecedented and has affected almost every aspect of day-to-day life for Australians. For separated parents, there are additional challenges to navigate. Although the situation is changing daily, there are some issues that separated parents need to give consideration to at this time.
Firstly, coronavirus of itself is not necessarily a good reason not to abide by any parenting orders or parenting plans that are presently in place. Parenting orders are binding on both parties, irrespective of what may be happening in society at large. A parent who breaches a parenting order, then relies on the coronavirus as an excuse, may find themselves facing a contravention application and the serious consequences that may follow.
If however, the child is unwell and exhibiting serious symptoms, this may give rise to a reasonable excuse for contravening parenting orders. Appropriate medical advice would need to be obtained and provided to the other parent. Certainly, if a parent is unwell, or if they have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus, this may also give rise to a reasonable excuse for a contravention of parenting orders.
It is to be expected however that Court will not look favourably upon parents using coronavirus as an excuse to breach parenting orders without there being any genuine cause for concern.
Ultimately however, the Court is concerned with the best interests of children and if there is any risk, albeit a small one, that children may be exposed to the virus then the Court will likely decline to make a finding of contravention and to make appropriate and protective orders.
Parenting orders continue irrespective of whether children are attending school or day care/ kindergarten. If educational facilities are closed, parents will need to abide by the Orders and reorganise their employment so as to be able to care for their children on their days or make alternate arrangements with the other party.
Parents may also wish to minimise the risk to grandparents and other carers at this time and may need to source alternate childcare arrangements.
It is not uncommon for parenting orders to provide for change over to occur in a public location such as a play centre, or local park. Caution should be taken when exposing children to public areas at this time and consideration may be given to altering change over locations to a safer venue.
Some sporting and extracurricular activities are also cancelled at present. If change overs occur at these events, then alternate change over mechanisms will need to be agreed.
Any travel during the forthcoming Term 1 holiday period, including domestic travel, should be carefully considered and the risk evaluated. It is to be expected that the Court will be especially cautious and that exceptional circumstances would need to be proved before a Court would entertain an application to travel overseas with a child at this time.
Children who are presently overseas will be subject to the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period upon their return to Australia. This may mean, although it is not yet clear, that they are not able to spend time with the other parent during this period.
At present, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court remain open and are conducting their usual daily lists. The situation is fluid however and litigants may need to prepare for adjournments of their hearing, or for hearings to be conducted by telephone, if appropriate.
At this time, parents should exercise common sense and caution and work cooperatively to ensure the health and safety of their children.
Our team is actively monitoring and considering the implications of legal and regulatory developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find our COVID-19 collection here.
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.