Shared parenting can be difficult at the best of times, when adding in the stress and uncertainty of the current COVID-19 situation, it is easy to feel completely overwhelmed. We have prepared a guide below for separated parents to alleviate the stress and uncertainty of parenting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The most important factor throughout these difficult times is to continue to focus on the best interests of your children. With all the disruptions to their regular life it is important to retain as much consistency with parenting as possible, where it is safe to do so.
If you have Court Orders, a Parenting Plan, or just a verbal agreement as to the care arrangements of your children, these should continue to be followed, where it remains possible.
Stage 3 Restrictions: How do these restrictions apply to our care arrangements?
In Victoria, during the present Stage 3 restrictions, complying with the care arrangements for children falls into the second exemption category, “medical, care and compassionate needs”, allowing you to leave your home to effect the care plan and change over. Children are also considered to reside in the home of each parent and thus are allowed to move between residences.
As playgrounds, parks, and venues such as contact centres, play centres and swimming pools are now closed, there may need to be temporary alterations made for changeover and for spend time arrangements that were to take place in such locations. Some private supervisors will be able to undertake home assessments so that there is no interruption to the continuity of time spent with each parent, however, given the number of families requiring this service there may be a delay in access. It may be more practical and financially viable to have a trusted family member facilitate changeovers or supervision where required. Of course, the safety of the children must come first and it may be impractical to continue with face to face time until the Stage 3 restrictions are lifted.
Where one parent resides interstate, it will be important to check with the specific state or territory government with respect to their border closures and the impact this will have on complying with changeover needs. Some states may allow the travel, however will then require the child to meet their quarantine requirements, which could significantly impact the return of the child within regular timeframes.
Altering Court Orders or Parenting Plans
Parents naturally want to protect their children, and it may be that in order to limit any exposure to the coronavirus that families reach an agreement for the children to remain with the resident parent or primary carer on a temporary basis and communicate with the other parent via electronic means. If you do reach an agreement to alter Court Orders or a Parenting Plan, it is important to have it in writing, whether by email or text, so that there is evidence of the change and the temporary nature of it, if required at a later date.
There are mediation options available electronically to help facilitate changes, or alternatively you may engage a lawyer to negotiate new arrangements for the duration of the restrictions.
In some instances it may be unsafe or simply not possible to discuss a change to current care arrangements with the other parent. Where you hold significant concerns for the safety of your child due to the risk of exposure to a vulnerable high risk member of your household, or where you are aware that the other parent is placing the children at risk by failing to comply with social distancing requirements, you should seek legal advice as to whether it is appropriate to make an application to the Family Courts to temporarily suspend the time the children spend with the other parent.
How can we assist?
If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on 1300 205 506 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As Accredited Family Law Specialists, we are well equipped to advise you of your options should you have any concerns regarding your parenting arrangements or the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.
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Katharine is a Senior Associate of Sharrock Pitman Legal.
She is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law (accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria). For further information, contact Katharine on (03) 8561 3319.