The current COVID-19 pandemic and the steps being taken to cope with it are affecting all areas of life, but one of the hardest things to deal with can be the impact it has on family, the people who are most important to us. Separated families are feeling the impact of all this even more than most.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the situation is changing so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up. That is why we have put together a quick update answering some of the most common questions people have about parenting arrangements at the moment:
1. Do our existing Parenting Orders still apply even though we are in lockdown?
The five reasons to leave home also extend to collecting your children from your estranged partner and spending time with your children. This means that, just like any other time, unless there is a very good reason not to comply with Orders because of a risk to the children, the Orders still need to be complied with. The main difference between normal conditions and the current situation may be that that there are more health-related risk factors now. If you are unable to comply with your current Orders, please seek some advice if no agreement can be reached with your estranged partner as you do not want to face potentially breaching your Court Orders.
2. Can we change our Orders to be more practical?
If you and the other party both want to change arrangements to make things more practical during the pandemic, there is generally nothing to stop that as long as it is by agreement.
Please make sure that the agreement to change arrangements are recorded in writing – even if this is by email or text message so you have a record of the change and also the agreement.
If a more permanent agreement to children’s arrangements is going to be made, we recommend that you file an updated Minutes of Consent Order so this can be made by the Court.
3. Our Parenting Orders say that changeover should happen at school drop-off or school pick-up – what do we do if our child is not physically attending at school?
The answer to this question will depend on the precise wording of your Parenting Orders. A lot of Parenting Orders include a fall-back position on days where school is not running, for instance they might say that on days when the child is not attending school, changeover will happen at a particular parent’s home, or at a particular public place. If you are not sure, speak to one of our Lawyers to clarify what your Parenting Orders say and whether an amendment should be made to the Orders.
4. We do not have Parenting Orders – what can we do if we do not agree on parenting arrangements?
If there are no Parenting Orders in your case yet, you should speak to a Lawyer to obtain some advice. The Lawyer may send a proposal to your estranged partner. They may recommend that you attend mediation, or in the case of urgency, make an application to the Court for parenting Orders.
5. We cannot agree on parenting arrangements and need to go to Court – can we go to Court?
New cases can still be filed with the Court, and the Court is continuing to hear urgent cases. Through the pandemic the Court has also changed some of their processes to streamline cases.
6. The other parent and I live far apart or in different states – what are we meant to do?
Families spread between different states are in some of the most difficult situations right now, and it is made more complex by the way different states are applying different restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19.
If you are in this position, we strongly recommend seeking advice from a specialist Family Lawyer. The current situation is extremely complex, and the precise wording of your Orders and which States you and the other parent are in will impact what you need to do.
Something else to keep in mind is that if for some reason it really is impossible for children to spend the usual time with the other parent, it is still important to maintain the relationship. Scheduling regular time for a video-chat is a good way of making sure that children’s connection with each parent can be maintained.
If you are not sure how to manage parenting arrangements at the moment or need help with some other aspect of a parenting case, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our specialist Family Law Team. We will still be available to help throughout this pandemic and can be contacted on (03) 9623 1039 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.