Navigating family law during COVID-19: things parents ought to know

17 April 2020

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt, many of our clients are embarking upon unfamiliar territory in many different areas of their lives, including relationships and matters concerning family law.

The family law system and the Courts have acted swiftly to implement new procedures and to adapt to the changed environment, whilst remaining open and accessible to assist those in need.  In recent weeks, the focus of the Family Law Courts has been on prioritising the most urgent matters (such as those concerning the safety and welfare of children).  To best facilitate this, the Courts have been conducting hearings, trials and mediations through electronic means wherever possible, including via video and telephone conferencing.

For separated parents, a key concern is of course the health and safety of their children.  Parents may have real concerns if they, or the other parent, have been in close contact with others who have found to have been exposed to COVID-19.  This, along with numerous other concerns have left parents asking the question, how do we continue to co-parent and honour the existing parenting arrangements? 

The Courts have been clear in their position, stating that parents need to act sensibly and reasonably at all times, with the children’s best interests to take absolute priority.  As a general proposition, parents are expected to continue to comply with Court Orders with respect to parenting. 

The Courts acknowledge, however, that there are circumstances in which compliance may not be able to be strictly adhered to, or is in fact impossible.  Some examples include where parents live interstate and are currently unable to effect changeovers due to border restrictions, or where changeover would ordinarily occur at school or at some other location which is currently unavailable.  

Where it is safe to do so, the Courts have urged parents to discuss the issues between themselves at first instance to find a practical, short-term solution (that is, a temporary variation to the current arrangement).  Such variations or agreements should ensure that parents continue to have contact that is consistent with the current parenting arrangement, albeit that the mode of contact in specific cases may now need to be via videoconferencing, social media or, at the very least, over the telephone (and until it is safe for regular contact to resume).

Where parents are able to reach an agreement, the Courts have strongly recommended that these agreements be formally recorded in writing. This will assist the Court in the event that the agreed variation to the parenting arrangements are later called into question.

As matters continue to rapidly change and develop it is important that parents seek support when needed.  In circumstances where parents are unable to reach an agreement, or require assistance and advice with respect to parenting matters generally, please don’t hesitate to contact Joanne Randello or James Pergl