In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, people are being encouraged to practice social distancing and isolation as well as limiting social gatherings to 2 people. As family lawyers, we are being asked how to manage shared parenting in these challenging and unprecedented times.
Court Orders must continue to be complied with by parents. It is likely that due to the closure of some schools and places of employment, a level of compromise will be required between parents regarding new handover times and locations. If a parent is unable to communicate with their former partner, this should be done via a third party or a lawyer. The current health crisis is not a reason to breach Court Orders and parents should as far as is reasonably practicable, comply with Court Orders if it is safe to do so, whilst following the social distancing guidelines. More than ever, parents should attempt to co-parent and keep the best interests of their children at the forefront of any decisions made.
If a parent breaches a parenting Order, the other parent may bring a Contravention Application in Court. The remedies available from the Court range from the enforcement of an Order to the punishment of a person for failure to obey an Order including by fine or imprisonment. If a court decides a person has failed to comply with an Order, it will consider whether the person had a reasonable excuse for contravening the Order. Some examples of reasonable excuses that may satisfy a court include:
- the person did not understand the obligations imposed by the order, or
- the person reasonably believed that the actions constituting the contravention were necessary to protect the health and safety of a person, including the person who contravened the order or the child, and
- the contravention did not last longer than was necessary to protect the health and safety of the person who contravened the order or the child
If a child’s health or safety was at risk for reasons relating to the Coronavirus, the Court may consider that a parent had a reasonable excuse to breach a Court Order. For example, if a lockdown is announced or self-isolation becomes necessary, handovers may not be able to occur.
Families should remember, these are unprecedented times not only for the community but also for the Courts. The Family Court of Australian and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have published a series of Questions and Answers for parents who may have concerns relating to parenting arrangements amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Please head to the Federal Circuit Court website for further information.
Contact our office today if you require legal advice or wish to hear about our respectful separation options. We can accommodate meetings by telephone, Skype, Zoom or in person with social distancing measures in place.