The COVID-19 pandemic is having an enormous impact on families, particularly separated families who are already faced with the challenges of navigating parenting arrangements subject to court orders and adjusting to significant life changes.
What does this mean for complying with current Court Orders?
Parents and carers are expected to comply with court orders in relation to parenting arrangements, consistent with their responsibilities to act in their children’s best interest. It is important for families to remember that these orders have been independently judged to be in the best interests of the children. Whilst the Courts make orders that are determined to be in the best interests of a child, caring for and determining the practical day-to-day best interests of a child is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers.
At times, it may be impossible to comply with the court orders. The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Honorable Will Alstergren, has asked that families respect the spirit of the orders. If parenting arrangements have to be altered, His Honour encourages people to do three things:
1. Be calm.
2. Be sensible.
3. Be reasonable.
Where it is safe to do so, parents and carers are encouraged to communicate with each other directly, or with the assistance of a third party (such as a family dispute resolution practitioner or lawyer) about their ability to comply with current orders and attempt to find a practical solution to these difficulties. If an agreement can be reached, the agreement should ideally be in writing.
His Honour remarks that if you need to lose a few days or alter arrangements, just do it to keep everyone safe. If one parent cannot see the children at their usual times, keep things as normal as possible for the children. Allow the children to have contact via telephone, Skype, Facetime or other means.
There are a number of services that continue to remain available for families. Family Relationships Online have information about the services and advice available for families. They also operate an Advice Line (1800 050 321). If parents or carers are unable to reach an agreement, and there continues to be real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically.
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are also continuing to operate to support families during this time. They have launched a COVID-19 List that commenced on 29 April 2020 to deal with urgent parenting disputes. Applications that may be suitable for filing in the COVID-19 List include those with an increase of family violence resulting from restrictions imposed on families, the closure of supervised contact services, travel restrictions across different States and Territories, and/or whether the parties or children have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot fulfil the parenting obligations due to sickness or concerns of infection.
If people are experiencing family violence, it is important that they contact the police and/or communicate with family, friends or support services to ensure their safety.

For Family Law advice, contact Morrison & Sawers Lawyers:

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