For the vast majority of people, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a profound and serious impact on everyday life. The observance of social distancing and isolation means that complex situations such as parenting orders, which can be challenging at best – are now made even more difficult.
This is why one of the most frequently asked questions for family lawyers right now is “How can I best manage my shared child custody arrangements in light of the current situation?”
As the Principle Lawyer for Strategic Lawyers, many people ask me if they still need to comply with court orders and how they go about managing changeovers now that schools in Queensland have closed.
The key point is that people need to continue to comply with court orders where absolutely possible.
However, the Family Court of Australia also recognises that in this present climate there may be situations that arise where compliance with current court orders can prove difficult, if not impossible.
This may be caused where any child-parent meetings occur at a designated contact point outside that of the parental home. Or, any ‘pick up’ arrangements occur at a particular school and that school is now closed.
Alternatively, there may be genuine safety concerns where either the other parent or someone in close contact with the parent is showing symptoms of COVID 19 and may otherwise restrict the safe movement of the child from one house to another.
If you do find yourself faced with any of the situations above then communication is key. Here are some pointers…
- Try talking to the other party to come up with a workable and practical solution that tackles these problems.
- If you cannot communicate, then speak via a third-party mediator to work out a sensible resolution.
- Each parent should firstly consider the safety of the child, but in addition, take the concerns of the other parent into account when making new or revised arrangements.
Understandably, these unprecedented times mean that parents may feel torn between wanting to limit their child’s movements and breaching parenting orders. However, our advice to clients would be to make sure that the other party (parent) is not missing out.
Here are some helpful ways that you can do this…
Maintaining telephone calls
More importantly than ever, telephone calls should be maintained during this period. So ensure you set aside and agree on telephone time with the other parent and your child – Video chat like Facetime or Skype are good options.
When or if this is not possible, it might be an idea to …
Invent ‘make-up time’ or ‘credits’
If the current situation causes the other party to miss out on visitation rights, you might want to try and agree on a system of make-up time or credits. Document the agreement where possible by putting it in writing or email to the fact that any time lost now during the pandemic, will be redeemed in full once the period of self-isolation is over.
What about parents who are isolating their children due to health concerns?
Naturally, it’s imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children including their safety and wellbeing. However, any parent who is self-isolating their child for health reasons should still make every conceivable effort to ensure their child continues to maintain a relationship with the other parent, even if it isn’t face-to-face.
So what’s the key takeaway?
If an agreement can be reached about any child custody arrangements, even if only for a short period of time, then ideally, it needs to be put in writing. Consent order applications can be filed electronically to the Court for any changes in parenting orders. Furthermore, because there is no hearing involved, any decisions are quick.
Failing that, then make things clear by email, text, Talking Parents or WhatsApp conversation. This can help the Court to understand what has and what hasn’t been agreed, especially if there is a need for further Family Law Court hearings at a later date.
If it isn’t possible to seek any form of compromise, then interested parties can mediate their differences through law firms like ours. Again, agreed applications can be filed electronically with the courts for speedy results. Otherwise, urgent applications to the court can also be made.
If you’d like to find out more information about how to navigate child custody during this difficult time or need further mediation, then contact the team at Strategic Lawyers. We’re here to help you to reach the best collective solution for your child. Call today for a consultation on (07) 4795 1114.