COVID19 & PARENTING PLANS:

The Goal Is to Always Do What Is in The Best Interest of The Child

Divorce, custody battles, court appearances, lawyers, division of assets, unhappy children and the list goes on.  You would think it could not get any worse.  Then comes along COVID19 and border closures.

Current times are uncertain due to COVID19 and we all must do our best to remember how this can impact on how you need to deal with your Parenting Plans and your legal obligations.

Below is some basic information to keep you on the right side of the law.

  • Parenting Orders

Court orders that have been made are still in force, however, during this pandemic, situations might come up that make it very hard to follow the orders.

If it is safe to do so, talk to the other parent to try to find a solution to these situations. If orders cannot be followed, one should try to follow the spirit of the orders and make sure that any alternative arrangements are in the best interests of the children.

If a change is needed in court orders temporarily and a mutual agreement can be reached, then there is no need to go to court to have the orders changed. Parents can make a formal agreement; this is called a parenting plan.

A parenting plan can change existing parenting orders if it becomes impossible to follow the orders. A parenting plan:

  • Must be in writing, signed and dated. If the parties cannot sign it, then it should agree by email, text message, WhatsApp, or other written electronic means.
  • Can be changed by another signed written agreement.
  • Can also have an end date. For example, you might agree on a parenting plan that will be in place until the COVID-19 pandemic has ends, or until a self-isolating parent no longer needs to self-isolate.
  • Urgent Cases

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have formed a court list, that came into effect on 29th April 2020, dedicated to deal exclusively with urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been a flood of urgent family law cases involving disputes over children since the COVID19 pandemic became a latent problem in Australia. There is more evidence of domestic violence cases and cases with problems about compliance with existing orders about access of parents to children.

The Courts have been overwhelmed with urgent cases. Some parents argue that the other parent is not adopting safe measures when spending time with their children, in some cases, children must travel interstate to spend time with a parent but each state has different restrictions and obligations regarding state travel.

It is essential that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children, that including assurance of the child/children’s safety.

Parents were encouraged by His Honour to “communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current orders and attempt to find a practical solution”. They were also encouraged to engage electronic mediation services to assist them to negotiate a solution to these difficulties. These should be considered sensibly and reasonably. Urgent cases will be “triaged” by a registrar and heard by a judge within 72 hours.

  • Border Closures and Travel

If the border is closed and the child/ children usually live across the border, some States and Territories have made new rules about who can cross their borders. Parents might be able to travel across borders if you are following a court order. The rules are different across the states and territories.

One might find that either parent, cannot cross the border. Parents need to be as flexible as possible in these circumstances. If the children are with one parent, the other must try to arrange for them to stay in touch with the other parent by telephone, video or FaceTime chats, or email. You may also want to consider arranging “make-up time” for the other parent once border travel becomes possible again.

The above is not an exhaustive list and when in doubt, you should always seek legal advice from a trusted legal professional.

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