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COVID-19 is having an impact on every corner of society.
This expert ‘Law and You’ column explores guidance from the Family Law system on Coronavirus and Parenting Orders, and court proceedings (as at date of publication).
It also touches on the recent publication by the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia—‘Top Ten Guide for Separated Parents during COVID-19’.
These are challenging times, and the situation with COVID-19 is shifting daily, with new government announcements being issued regularly.
If you’re finding life overwhelming and feel you need legal support, contact one of our expert family law lawyers.
I have a Parenting Order in place. Does COVID-19 change this in any way?
The general guidance by the Chief Justice is that parents are expected to comply with Court orders relating to parenting arrangements.
If you can’t meet the terms because of an issue related to COVID-19 then use common sense and work with the other parent to find solutions to challenges.
It’s extremely important that parents and carers act reasonably at all times. If, for example, your work hours change suddenly because your organisation has put you on a special assignment related to Coronavirus, call your ex-partner as soon as possible to discuss options for shifting the times you will look after the kids.
If you anticipate a change will be coming with your work, give the other parent a well-thought-through explanation and plenty of notice so they have time to adjust.
Refrain from springing issues on them at the last minute. This isn’t fair on them or the kids.
Once you agree, explain changes to the kids so they know what to expect. If you can’t agree, contact a family law firm and ask for advice, including about mediation. Watts McCray Lawyers has a team of expert mediators who can help.
How can I be sure my ex-partner will respect social distancing with the kids?
Discuss the matter with your ex-partner to make sure you’re both operating with the same definition of social distancing and try to agree on how you will both practise it and make sure the kids do too.
Talk with your ex-partner about government guidelines in place. Work on a consistent understanding, including what is and isn’t allowed, so you’re both on the same page. This will help relieve some stress and anxiety around how you care for the kids and what will happen when they’re in the other parent’s care.
For example, you should both agree that you won’t let the kids head to the park to play with a large group of friends because the government has said such social gatherings are inadvisable.
The same applies with letting the kids play sports in groups or having large groups of friends over to the house to play.
We have changeover at school. What happens if schools close?
If changeover normally occurs after school and at the school, and if schools eventually close, discuss with your ex-partner another neutral or public location that would suit.
This needs to be a location where you can maintain social distancing. Quite often parents opt for a place with CCTV cameras, for added security.
What happens with taking care of the kids if I’m quarantined or in self-isolation waiting for COVID-19 test results?
It’s essential that an unwell parent suspends time with the kids when quarantining in self-isolation while waiting for test results. This is a clear government direction.
Explain to the kids what quarantine means and why they can’t visit or be in direct contact with the parent who is unwell.
It’s important to keep communication open and maintain a relationship with the unwell parent, so the kids don’t worry. This is easier than ever, through modern digital communications platforms such as Skype, FaceTime and Messenger.
Special note: If your child shows any symptom of COVID-19, share this information with the other parent immediately. In line with set government guidelines, agree on an appropriate response.
Be honest in these circumstances, for everyone’s protection. There is little point in glossing over symptoms.
I’m worried my ex-partner won’t bother reducing the risk of spreading the virus. What do I do?
Talk to your ex-partner about government requirements for reducing the risk of spreading the virus, including through appropriate hygiene and complying with lockdown requirements and recommendations to STAY HOME.
Agree on how you’ll both be vigilant in ensuring the kids wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and in warm water, avoid touching their faces and use hand sanitiser if out of the home for essential reasons (if you can get it!). You must also both be vigilant in adhering to social distancing requirements when in public.
Agree that you both deserve peace of mind by laying down ground rules and having everyone follow them.
My daughter’s birthday is coming up and she’ll be in my ex-partner’s care, which means I can’t see her. What shall I do?
Be creative about using digital communication platforms like Skype, Facetime or Messenger. Try a virtual party with a birthday cake, sing Happy Birthday and celebrate together.
Another idea is to hop online and do some virtual shopping with your daughter to buy a birthday gift and then have it home delivered.
- Remember that these truly are challenging and unprecedented times, so practice be patient, tolerant and positive when matters shift quickly.
- Be open with your ex-partner about your concerns and encourage them to do the same.
- Model the behaviours you’re asking your ex-partner to model.
- Be compassionate and calm during these times of high stress.
- Focus on solutions and respectful engagement for the best results.
- Make a conscious effort to celebrate uplifting moments every day, for your mental health, your ex-partner’s mental health and the kid’s mental health.
- If you’re concerned about COVID-19 and the impact on your Protection Order or any other family law matters, get in touch with us at Watts McCray.
This expert column was prepared by Debra Parker, Accredited Specialist in Family Law and in Dispute Resolution at Watts McCray Lawyers in Canberra.
Debra is an accredited family law specialist and practices in Canberra. She was made a member of the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators in 1992 and is a Nationally Accredited Arbitrator and Mediator with the Mediator Standards Board.
She is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and the Law Society of the ACT, and is the only family lawyer in the ACT with double Specialist Accreditation in both Family Law and in Dispute Resolution, as recognised by the Law Society of NSW.
Debra has been recognised in the National Doyle’s Guide as both a leading Family Lawyer and leading Mediator in the Australian Capital Territory for the past four years running. She was a national finalist in both the 2019 and 2020 Mediator of the Year Award presented by the Australasian Law Awards.
Meet Debra Parker.
This editorial was created in partnership with Watts McCray. For more information on sponsored partnerships, click here.