How to Share Parenting in a Pandemic?
This is not a time to keep a note of how many overnights the other parent has had or to argue school holidays. Parenting Orders were made without pandemics in mind. The current situation is primarily a matter of health and safety. Parents are expected to act in the best interests of their children and to find “sensible and reasonable” solutions for practical difficulties which will unavoidably arise due to COVID-19. We are encouraging all or clients to consider the most practicable and importantly, child focused, approach.
The starting point is that existing parenting orders and agreements should continue to the extent it is possible to do so. If not, in the interests of both parents and their children consideration should be given to the following:
- While schools remain open, absent medical advice, children should continue to attend school unless both parents agree otherwise;
- Assure any current reduction in time will be made up – eventually. Even if there is no provision for make-up time in an existing Order or agreement;
- Take reasonable steps to facilitate regular communication increase telephone calls, video chats, text messages, skype and keep records in relation to those steps taken including contacting other parent by text;
- Seek help to settle disputes through family dispute resolution (“FDR”);
- If no Orders are in place a parenting plan may be considered, and lawyers can assist in this regard
The virus not an excuse to cut another parent out – Is it a contravention of the Order by wanting to limit your child’s movements?
If a parent proposes to breach a parenting order by not handing over the children due to a health and safety risk, specific medical evidence about the risk to the children or other party will be required to defend a contravention application. You will need to establish that there were reasonable grounds and a reasonable excuse for a breach to occur and that this contravention did not continue longer than was necessary to protect, the health, safety and wellbeing of the person in question. Consequences of breaching an Order in a very serious case may result in the contravening party serving a sentence of imprisonment of up to 12 months.
Parents should be making every effort possible to continue to allow the children to have a relationship with the other parent. If you are isolating your child due to health concerns we recommend that you put everything in an email, set out your concerns clearly and discuss this sensible and practically. Focus on where is the best place for your children to have their movements limited as much as possible paying careful attention to information and guidance provided by Government and health authorities.
This is a developing area, and clients need to keep an eye on the changing landscape and comply with social distancing. Think about alternative venues. It may be time to rethink whether changeovers can occur at parents’ homes.
Complying With Court Orders – Parenting Education Programs/ Behavioural Change Programs
Parties who are engaged in parenting education programs by way of court order need to be making enquiries with those service providers and whether those attendances are able to proceed if at all. We also encourage you to document those enquiries.
The government announced a $1.1billion health package to boost mental health services and family violence support. An initial $150 million is to be provided to support victims of family violence due to the fall out of COVID-19. Government’s media release indicates google searches for family violence assistance has increased by 75% the highest numbers seen in five years. If you are experiencing family violence we encourage you to contact the national domestic, family and sexual violence telephone counselling service 1800RESPECT, the police, and once you are safe, our office to discuss the longer-term issues here.
Intervention Orders (“IVO”)
Changes have been made to the Magistrates Courts procedures in relation to applying for an intervention order. We encourage you to call ahead before attending your local court registry.
First listing dates for urgent applications will be made on a case by case basis. If your matter is urgent please make this known upon application to the Court registry.
Second and subsequent listings of IVO matters will be adjourned to a notional date of 15 June 2020 and then a plan for future listings will be made on that date.
The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia has responded to COVID-19 by making changes to court operations to accommodate social distancing and will continue to operate and to provide essential services to the parties. Urgent and priority trials will remain listed and will be conducted in the safest possible manner.
Non-urgent property-only trials may be adjourned and non-urgent parenting trials will be given similar consideration at the discretion of the judge. Trials or hearings can be done by telephone or video conferencing.
The Court has changed its procedure so that ‘first return’ Court dates are to be by telephone call except in very limited situations. If both parties are represented, the lawyers can negotiate beforehand and submit orders in that are agreed if they are of a simply procedural nature.
Divorce Hearings will be conducted by telephone.
Court Orders and financial agreements now finalised may seem unworkable or unfair due to changes in personal circumstances and the economy due to the effects of COVID-19.
- Valuations – we already seen significant reductions in shares and superannuation entitlements. Many businesses will be adversely affected. It is anticipated that values will drop in relation to property. These valuation changes may seem unjust or difficult for an order or an agreement to be carried out.
- If unable to comply with Orders the starting point is the onus is on the party experiencing the change of circumstances and how they may vary the current timetable – delay payments by six months, perhaps just pay interest. Parties need to be flexible and pragmatic on how to solve these issues.
- It may be prudent, where possible, to delay finalising property matters and obtaining valuations until there is greater certainty about valuation of assets and income and employment positions of parties.
- If requested, it may be prudent for lawyers representing each party to apply for a phone mention to get some clarity around the disputed issue.
We encourage you to familiarise and avail yourself of the additional payments the Federal Government is making available through Centrelink.
The Federal Government includes a new temporary compassionate ground for the early release of superannuation. Subject to conditions:
- From mid−April 202 eligible individuals affected by COVID−19 will be able to apply online through MyGov website to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation before 1 July 2020.
- A further $10,000 will be available to eligible individuals from 1 July 2020 until 24 September 2020.
- Tax will not be payable on any amounts released and will not affect Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payment.
However we note that we are not financial advisors and you should consider taking financial advice prior to accessing superannuation amounts.
For Up to Date Information About Covid−19 Refer to:
- Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services COVID−19 information: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus
- Australian Government Department of Health COVID−19 health alert: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health−alerts/novel−coronavirus−2019−ncov−health− alert
These are stressful and unusual times. Children that are already under enormous stress need parents to keep things as conflict free as possible and reduce their own anxiety.
We are able to provide legal assistance in fundamental legal matters such as these and can be contacted on 03 9614 7111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please stay safe, and continue to check in with family and friends.