COVID-19’s Impact on Child Parenting Arrangements and Court Orders
The COVID-19 outbreak has created uncertainty in all spheres of our daily lives. Such uncertainty is heightened when it comes to situations involving decisions on whether the children should self-isolate or whether the children should continue parenting arrangements, schooling or activities, especially where there are existing court orders in place.
Whether you have parenting arrangements in place, or feel like your former partner has cornered you, it is important for you to know your rights so that you can make informed decisions about your children’s welfare and well-being.
Will I need to continue parenting arrangements?
You must still do all things reasonably necessary to ensure that your child continues to spend routine or agreed time with the other parent, unless doing so would go against the best interests of the child or the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility can be rebutted.
But parents have been asked to keep their children at home?
Some parents may argue “I’m not letting my children see their mother/father or let them out of the house for that matter, because they might contract the coronavirus; the risk is too high.” Considering the Australian Government’s recent announcement on 23 March 2020 that schools are to remain open, even if you adopt this argument, it may be later determined by the Family Court, to your detriment, that it was not the correct decision for the best interests of the children in detracting from spending routine time with the other parent.
What shall I do next?
It is recommended that both parents first engage in discussions, or mediation (if required), to reach an interim consensus with changing the parenting arrangements to adapt to the COVID-19 situation, before considering other legal avenues.
We can assist with drafting a formal parenting plan that is legally recognised, creates certainty and accurately reflects your intentions for your children.
Does working from home benefit me?
Subject to existing parenting or court orders, it may be the case that you would be able to care better for your children, particularly when their daycare, childcare or schooling has been temporarily suspended.
It is recommended that both parents maintain as much of the status quo as possible, given that further changes may be implemented in the coming weeks. The key focus for parents is to ensure that they are not using the current COVID-19 situation as a “tactic” to spend extra time with their children.
Court has been postponed. Is compliance still required?
Yes. Once court orders are made, both parents must comply with them unless there is a valid reason not to do so. An Application in a Case is one option available for a parent seeking short-term variance in orders, and especially so in urgent circumstances.
What can I do if my former partner has ceased payments?
Child support and spousal maintenance are the two main categories of payments which generally arise in parenting matters. Whilst child support is determined by the Department of Human Services, spousal maintenance should not be afforded to a parent as a means for supporting their children.
To allow us to best address your concerns and understand your circumstances before providing you with options, please contact one of our family lawyers to obtain advice on your particular situation.
We understand that the current COVID-19 atmosphere can be a challenge for parents, children and individuals alike.
We are here to help and can assist in protecting both your families and loved ones in these uncertain times.
Bhavesh Mistry is a principal with expertise in the areas of asset protection, estate planning, litigation and commercial law. He also has experience in family law matters that involve complex financial issues, including property settlements.