By Caitlin Elliott, Senior Associate
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been wide ranging on Australians, including on the ability of parties in family law disputes to comply with parenting orders.
The Honourable Chief Judge Alstergren released a statement on 26 March 2020 regarding the effect of COVID-19. The purpose of the statement was to clarify that the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia remain open to assist parties.
The full statement of His Honour Chief Judge Alstergren can be read here (http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/about/covid/covid-profession/mr260320), however, we summarise it below.
Whilst recognising each family’s circumstances are different, His Honour stated:
- It is imperative that parties act in the best interests of their children, including ensuring their safety and wellbeing. The day to day care of a child is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers.
- Parties are expected to comply with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements during COVID-19.
- There may be situations that arise which make strict compliance with current Court orders very difficult or impossible (for example, the closure of state borders or safety issues, such as exposure to COVID-19).
- As a first step, and only if safe to do so, parties should communicate with each other about their ability or otherwise to comply with orders and attempt to find a practical solution. Potential solutions should be considered sensibly and reasonably.
- When considering altering arrangements parties must ensure that the purpose or spirit of the parenting orders are respected and that they act in the best interests of the children.
- If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements – even if they are adjusted for a short period of time – the agreement should be in writing (for example, by way of draft consent orders, email, text message or Whatsapp).
- If an agreement has been reached and consent orders developed to capture new or varied parenting orders, consent order applications can be filed with the Court.
- Differences can be mediated through lawyers. Electronic mediation services are available.
- If parties are unable to agree to vary the parenting arrangement, or it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parties continue to have real concerns, parties can approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders.
- Where there is no agreement, parties should keep children safe until the dispute can be resolved. During the period of dispute, parties should ensure that each party continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements (such as via telephone or video).
- Parties must act reasonably at all times. To act reasonably, or to have a reasonable excuse for not complying with Court orders, is a matter that is considered by the Court.
- If a party of child is in immediate danger, contact the police.
If your ability to comply with parenting orders has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact us for assistance.