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The Impact of Covid-19 on separated parents

The coronavirus continues to headline news outlets across the world, with the Australian government implementing self-isolation and social distancing rules to slow the spread. A lockdown also seems inevitable, reports lawyer Shikha Luddu.

If you are a single parent co-parenting your children with your ex-partner, the world as we see it today presents various questions particularly in relation your children’s’ arrangements and any parenting Orders that you may have in place.

Some questions you may have over the coming months are:

  1. What happens if you, your ex-partner or any other carer for the children contracts Coronavirus?

You must share that information immediately with the other parent and try and agree on implementing an appropriate response. It may be that time may need to be suspended for the period of isolation with the children to remain with one parent to ensure everyone’s health and safety.

  1. What happens if you or the children have been in contact with someone who has contracted Coronavirus?

Again you must share that information immediately with the other parent discuss whether the children should remain in the care of one parent whilst awaiting medical clearance.

  1. How will changeover occur in a public area?

In the event of a lockdown, for example, the children’s school may no longer be an appropriate place for changeover to occur. Parents will need to make other arrangements for changeover whilst ensuring social distancing practices can be maintained.

  1. What happens when schools close down?

When schools close down there may need to be some discussion between you particularly if school holidays are extended or children are to be homeschooled for a period of time. Usually, parenting orders provide for spend time arrangements during school terms and during holidays. The current climate is unprecedented so it is unlikely any Orders provide for what is to occur if schools are not open. Parents will need to discuss whether the current Orders are practical and make temporary changes to spend time arrangements to work around the children’s needs, the possibility that parents may be working from home and outside normal work hours. Parents are encouraged to be flexible and reasonable in these discussions.

  1. What if the children are withheld because of the pandemic?

If children are withheld, this would constitute a contravention and you may be the subject of an application to Court. If a parent were to withhold a child they would need to have a reasonable excuse for doing so. Withholding a child should be an absolute last resort and it is encouraged that parents seek legal advice prior to doing so as each case will depend on their individual circumstances.

  1. What if there is an intervention order in place?

If there is an Intervention Order it remains operative at all times. It must not be breached. Ordinarily the terms of the Intervention Order, however, allow for parties to

(a) do anything that is permitted by a Family Law Act Order or a written agreement about child arrangements; or

(b) negotiate child arrangements by letter, email or text messages; or

(c) communicate through a lawyer or mediator;

In doing any of the above, family violence must not be committed.

Regrettably, family violence may increase with families spending more time together in circumstances where they may be feeling anxiety and stress. If you need additional support during this time there are appropriate referrals to community organisations such as Orange Door or Safe Steps who offer a 24-hour hotline (Ph: 1800 015 188).

If you are fearful for your safety, or the safety of your children during this time, please contact the police.

  1. What if your time is currently supervised or at a supervised contact centre?

Supervised contact centres have now closed down. Your time with the children may be put on hold for a short while until the contact service recommences operating or unless there can be an agreement between you as to a suitable alternative supervisor.  If you are concerned about how your time with the children might be affected, please contact the relevant contact service or seek legal advice.

  1. What is happening with any matters in Court?

At this stage, the Federal Circuit Court and Family Courts remain open and are continuing to conduct Court work subject to current restraints based on the advice of the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer. A number of hearings are now being undertaken by telephone or video link. Where face to face hearings are required, the Court is giving preference to urgent matters and will stagger the listing so as to reduce the number of people waiting in the building.

Despite the current uncertainty, Court Orders remain operative and are to be followed. A failure to comply with Orders may result in a contravention unless there is a reasonable excuse. At this stage, it is hard to predict what may be accepted as a reasonable excuse.

There may also be situations that may make parenting Orders impossible. For example, if the Orders provide for changeover to occur at school and the school is closed, you may be expected to arrange an alternate, safe changeover location during the pandemic.

Note:

If your child is showing any symptoms of the virus, you must share that information immediately with the other parent and try and agree on implementing an appropriate response. You are encouraged to engage openly and honestly with the other parent about any concerns or issues including a possible risk of exposure.

In discussions, you should use your common sense and act reasonably in negotiating any changes to parenting arrangements which should be done amongst yourselves or via your lawyers. Any changes should also be confirmed in writing even if via email, text or correspondence between lawyers.

What remains paramount is that you act in the best interests of your children, promoting their relationship with both parents whilst also ensuring their safety and wellbeing. These are unprecedented times and life as we know it has already changed, but we will get through this, together.


Shikha Luddu is a partner as Schetzer Papaleo Luddu, a Melbourne based Law firm specialising in Family & Relationship Law. She is also a twin mum to three-year-old girls and working remotely during this pandemic. You can contact her on (03)8602-2000 or shikha@spllaw.com.au

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