COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS AND PARENTING ARRANGEMENTS
As the NSW Government announces a further 4-week lockdown and further local government areas are forced into a stricter lockdown, concern grows amongst parents. It begs the question: Do I have to continue my parenting arrangement due to COVID-19 restrictions?
The team at Brazel Moore Lawyers understands that every family’s circumstances are different which means that during the current Covid-19 environment, it may be difficult for some to comply with court orders, particularly as restrictions are constantly changing.
As stated on the NSW Government website, it is considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ to facilitate arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children or siblings, or children under the age of 18 who do not live in the same household as their parents or siblings.
This means individuals are still able to visit and spend time with their children in the Greater Sydney area to comply with a Court order. We recommend that you have a copy of the sealed Court Orders to present to Police or Health authorities if requested.
What if I do not have Court Orders?
Parents and carers are still expected to facilitate parenting arrangements, consistent with their responsibilities to act in their children’s best interests.
As a first step, and only if it is safe to do so, parents should communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current arrangements and they should attempt to find a practical solution to maintain the child’s contact with both parents.
Both parents should always consider the safety and best interests of their children, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent when discussing arrangements.
A recent Court case confirmed this includes balancing an understanding that family members are important to children, but the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered.
If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements, temporary or ongoing, the agreement should be in writing, even if by way of email or text between parents. This will be particularly important if requested by Police or Health authorities, or if there are later family law proceedings.
The family law team at Brazel Moore Lawyers is continuing to work during this unprecedented time and can assist in negotiations regarding parenting arrangements. We recommend that an agreement be finalised by way of consent orders. Consent orders can be drafted to reflect the agreement reached and then filed with the Court electronically to bring formality to the agreement. This means that if there is a breach of the Consent Orders, they can be enforced against the party in breach.
What if we have no agreement?
Where there is no agreement, parents should keep the children safe until the dispute can be resolved.
Also during this period of dispute, parents should ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements, such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone.
Interrelate have suggested the following creative ways to continue contact:
- Video chat on Skype, messenger, Zoom and other platforms for live video connecting.
- Record a video message saying ‘Hi’ and showing the parent what they have been doing and email it or attach it to a text message.
- Write letters and send by email or post.
- Send photos, pictures or artwork via email or post
- Record themselves reading a story and send via email.
- Record themselves dancing or undertaking an activity and send via email.
If you have the means to communicate using the above methods and are concerned for safety, extra steps may include using the Children’s Contact Service (CCS) or a neutral person to assist by being a go-between to receive and pass on communications. The Children’s Contact Service (CSS) is also able to supervise video chat sessions.
If you have concerns about domestic abuse or violence and an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) or an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is in place, you may need to seek legal advice to ensure you are not going to breach the order when altering previous arrangements. If you or your child is in immediate danger, please contact your local police and seek medical advice if required.
We hope that you are able to follow our tips in navigating these difficult, unprecedented times. If, however, you have a query relating to any of the information in this article, or you require advice about your own matter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Family Law Team of Brazel Moore Lawyers on (02) 4324 7699.