COVID-19 has generated a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety in the community. One concern many parents may have is what to do if their ability to comply with parenting orders from the court is affected by COVID-19; particularly as a result of the progressive shut down and restriction on movement that Australians are facing. In this article we will clarify the court’s position in relation to the parties’ obligations towards parenting orders in light of this pandemic.
The best interests of the child
The paramount concern of the family courts is ensuring that decisions are made in the best interests of the children and those interests need to be balanced with the child’s health and safety.
In a media release, the Honourable Chief Justice Will Alstergren of the Family Court emphasised that the best interests of the child in the context of COVID-19 means ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the child and “caring for and determining the practical day-to-day best interests of a child”. However, consistent with this interest, parents must still, as reasonably as possible, comply with court orders in place with respect to parenting. This includes ensuring that time spent with the children is acted upon by each parent or carer insofar as the parenting orders necessitate.
Sensible and reasonable
In highly uncommon circumstances such as a global pandemic, strict compliance with parenting orders can become somewhat difficult, such as when orders stipulate that time with a parent or carer is to occur at a designated location which may not be operating anymore due to forced closures. Another example is when state borders are closed and parents are unable to facilitate transport for the children. There are also the pressing health issues that may complicate those situations such as when one parent, or someone close to that parent, having been exposed to COVID-19 goes into quarantine, and this may prevent the children from spending time with that person.
In these situations, the courts require parties to find practical solutions to overcome these difficulties that are both sensible and reasonable. It also emphasises that members of a family are important to a child and the risk of contagion to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household, such as grandparents or sick relatives, should also be taken into consideration.
Approaching the court electronically
If, as a result of this pandemic, parties are unable to comply with their existing parenting orders, the parties are encouraged to reach an agreement then approach the court electronically to seek a variation of those orders. In the meantime, parents and carers should, as soon as practicable, ensure they maintain contact with the children through platforms such as skype, zoom, FaceTime, social media or telephone.
Seek legal advice
It is important to be fully aware of the impact COVID-19 may have on your parenting orders and family law matters generally. If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced family law solicitors on 9963 9800 or via email at [email protected].
Etheringtons Solicitors extends our deepest sympathies to those experiencing hardship or health concerns during this difficult time. Further information about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself can be found at: www.health.gov.au.