COVID-19 pandemic: How do my children spend time between two households?  

With the coronavirus pandemic presently impacting almost every aspect of life, we have received a number of inquiries about conducting changeovers, and whether or not aspects of parenting Orders are affected, naturally stemming from concerns for your, your child’s, or elderly members of your household’s safety and well-being.
The Family Court of Australia issued a media release on 26 March 2020. We have summarised some of the key points raised:
Emphasis on acting in the best interests of children
Caring for and determining the practical day-to-day interests of a child is your responsibility as a parent (or carer). Where there are parenting Orders in place, which the court has determined are in the best interests of a child, both parents are expected to comply with arrangements and continue to facilitate time to be spent with each parent.
We note that moving between different places of residence is listed in Schedule 1 at (8) as a reasonable excuse for movement under the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020.
Ability to comply with Orders
If your parenting Orders are not able to be strictly complied with, you must ensure the spirit of the orders are respected. If, for example, Orders refer to a designated contact centre for time to be spent; nominate a changeover location at a school that is now closed; or a parent may have been exposed to COVID-19:
  1. If it is safe to do so, communicate with the other parent and attempt to identify a practical solution;
  2. Consider the safety and best interests of the child;
  3. Appreciate concerns of the other parent whilst discussing possible new or revised arrangements;
  4. Consider risk of infection to vulnerable members of the family and household;
  5. Record any new agreement reached in writing in an email or text message with the other party;
  6. An agreement to vary existing parenting Orders can be filed by way of Consent Orders electronically with the Court.
What if we can’t agree?
The Family Relationships Advice Line can be contacted on 1800 050 321 and may be able to assist you and the other parent to discuss issues and in reaching an agreement.
You may also contact your lawyer, or seek advice from a lawyer, if dealing with the other parent directly is not appropriate in your circumstances. Electronic mediation services are also available.
What if we hadn’t reached a final agreement about parenting Orders?
Where you and the other parent have been negotiating your parenting arrangements, once an agreement has been reached, Consent Orders are still able to be filed and the court usually grants these within a month, without any physical attendance required by the parties.
You should ensure that each parent has some contact with your child or children and if it is not safe for physical time to be spent, you should encourage video calls in addition to telephone calls.
Am I still able to commence court proceedings if I have not been allowed to spent time with my child?
Yes, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts are still open, with facilities for appearances via video link or telephone.
You are still required to make a genuine effort to resolve parenting disputes through family dispute resolution, before commencing court proceedings, which must include a section 60I Certificate, issued from an accredited FDR practitioner (unless an exemption applies). Please see the Family Relationships Online website for relevant services if you have not yet attended Family Dispute Resolution.
If you would like advice in relation to parenting or other family law matters, please call our office and ask to speak to our family law team for a discreet teleconference.

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