There is a great deal of uncertainty and confusion at the present time around COVID-19.
In all reality, and particularly if no longer attending school and out of their usual routine, your children are likely to be feeling particularly anxious. This is perhaps first and foremost why it is essential to maintain your child’s stability and contact with both parents, unless the situation absolutely demands it.
Whilst it remains to be seen as to the position adopted by Judges whom are asked to rule in relation to the suspension of contact with a parent or breach of a Court Order allowing for time, we believe the following is a good guide to how best to proceed:
- Government direction and guideline must be abided first and foremost. Whilst non-essential travel has been discouraged, we do not believe that the facilitation of contact and the important relationship of a parent and child will be classified as non-essential.
- If you have not looked at your Orders or parenting plan in some time, now is an exceptionally important time to find that copy of the plan or order and re-read it carefully. The majority of Orders or parenting plans will include terms around the arrangements being as agreed between the parents from time to time, and it is only in the event of a dispute that the terms of the order or parenting plan will need to be strictly followed.
- This is one occasion where we would encourage both parents to take a pragmatic and child-focused approach which is intended to limit upheaval and distress to a child. Now, of all times, it is essential that you exhaust the chance of being on one page on these issues:
- If school ceases to be a viable option: Who needs to work? Who is best to structure a home schooling environment?
- What can we do to keep both households ticking financially? Consider reaching an agreement around interim child support if the paying parent has lost a job/income, and circumstances are really tough.
- Should we collectively decide to pull our child from school prior to holidays or after the term officially recommences? A solid consensus is important on this.
- Consider putting both of your households into social isolation, so that the only contact you’re effectively having is with each other’s household. This requires a firm commitment to maintaining the same rules – see our fact sheet Social Isolation in our Shared Households;
- Open up electronic, telephone and video communication – consider abandoning the idea of calls at limited and defined times, it’s likely to make your child feel better to reach out to the other parent and members of their household regularly; and
- If either of you or your child/ren are sick, then common sense must prevail. Quarantine where the child is, communicate all concerns and developments asap and take some time to appreciate the distress for both parents, be it the one managing illness or the one feeling distressed by the distance and being unable to help.
Insisting upon strict legal rights at the present time may be of limited assistance – the Court is unlikely to have the capacity to hear your dispute for some months, and potentially until well after the current crisis. Unfairly and unnecessarily restricting your child’s time with another parent might well occur in coming months, but bear in mind that the Court may at a later date judge that behaviour very adversely and actively consider whether the child should remain living with a parent that has potentially shown disregard for the child’s relationship with the other parent. That said, your child’s safety is paramount and form a reasonable excuse for not complying with a Court Order.
Conflict happens – two very good parents can have a different view with regard to how best to protect the most important person or people in their lives. There is no room for two lawyers spending your limited funds on an argument in the current climate. Focus on the question of how we get a resolution to the current situation.
Consider speaking to one of our team about mediating the dispute, or providing some recommendations about how best to proceed for a fixed fee and as a matter of urgency. This requires both of you to approach our office jointly. Our Kara Best is available to assist with this alternative.
If you personally need assistance determining the best course of action in responding to the current pandemic, or the other parent’s response or position, contact our Toowoomba family lawyers for assistance.
Our team remains available to assist you at this time and we are making use of technology to assist in providing a safe and connected approach to advice for you and our team.