Dealing with a separation and parenting arrangements for children is stressful at the best of times. We understand that with so much uncertainty around Covid-19, comes additional stress and pressure. We have compiled some tips to assist families navigate this space during the current pandemic.
- Stay healthy and informed: be aware of and follow the current health advice concerning Covid-19, including Government policies on social distancing, Government bans on travel and other health guidelines. It is also important to be aware of any advice given by your children’s schools, child care centres or supervised contact services.
- Meet your obligations: if you have current Court Orders or an agreement in place, you need to comply with your obligations. In respect of Court Orders, you have a continuing obligation to comply with Orders and should you fail to comply without having a reasonable excuse (section 70NAE Family Law Act 1975), the Court could find you in Contravention and could penalise you. We acknowledge that the current situation with Covid-19 is changing rapidly and there may be times when arrangements are unclear, or obligations cannot be met. For example, there may be an Order which provides for changeover to occur at school, but your children may not be attending school. In situations such as these, it is imperative to communicate with the other parent about reasonable, alternative arrangements and to give the other parent as much notice as possible about any proposed variation. It is important that any proposed changes are in writing.
- Adapt: if arrangements can not be carried out, communicate with the other parent about alternatives. For example, if changeover cannot occur at school, perhaps it can occur at a halfway point or another safe venue. Children continuing to have a relationship with both parents, particularly where Orders provide for this, is important during the current pandemic. However, there may be a time where due to health and safety reasons this is not possible. For example, if one parent is forced into self-isolation, then it may not be possible for that parent to spend time with the children. If this were to occur, parents could consider facilitating communication between the children and other parent through Facetime, Skype or telephone calls. Furthermore, if children are spending time with a parent at a supervised contact centre, it is important to be up to date with information pertaining to services’ closure. Many contact centres and supervision services have now ceased operating, which will cause added stress for many families. If this has occurred for you, consider whether there is an appropriate alternative supervisor, keeping in mind the current health advice about social distancing, or whether communication could be facilitated by Facetime, Skype or telephone.
- Communicate: we cannot stress the importance of communicating with the other parent, particularly in circumstances where the advice and policies concerning Covid-19 are changing so rapidly. You should communicate with the other parent about what is happening for the children; including informing the other parent about decisions with respect to school and notifying the other parent if the children become unwell. It is also important to communicate with the other parent and make plans for what you will do should one parent or a parent and the children be required to self-isolate.
We understand that discussing parenting arrangements can be challenging, but it is important that stability is maintained for children as much as possible.