“There is so much confusion at the moment. We are facing school closures, work closures, and potential exposure to the virus. What does this mean for my parenting arrangements?”
One of the most common questions I have been asked by my clients, is this: is a forced lock down, considered to be part of the school holidays, or not?
The reality is that, for Victoria, it has deemed to be an early school holiday period, and it should be treated accordingly. But what if this is our reality for the next few months, with children being unable to return to school and having to take lessons remotely?
The answer will depend on your personal circumstances. If one of the parents is able to still go to work out of the home, then arguably it should be considered to be “term time”. But if you have two parents who are working from home in separate homes, facing unemployment or on forced leave, then this could lead to an interpretation under the orders of it being similar to a school holiday period to be shared between you.
If you are a front-line health worker, needing to work longer hours and potentially posing a risk to your family through exposure to the virus, then arrangements may need to depart from any parenting agreement for a longer period.
I think that flexibility may need to be adopted in the circumstances.
It is important to remember that parenting orders are intended to be a rule book for you to navigate arrangements when you can’t agree. You always have the option to depart from Court orders or a written agreement, if you can reach agreement to do so.
Risk to the child
Another important consideration is the level of risk to the child (or other family members) posed by the current crisis. For example, if there is a requirement to quarantine which may lead to a temporary suspension and/or variation of a parenting agreement. If supervised time is occurring, there should also be a review of those arrangements, including a temporary change of supervisors, to take into account any potential risk factors.
If in continuing with the parenting arrangements there is a risk to the child or a close family member of the child who may be at greater risk in the current circumstances (such as elderly grandparents), then it may be necessary to depart from the arrangements entirely on a temporary basis. Extra caution may also be required where there are blended families. The key is understanding the chain of people who children are likely to come into contact with, and planning arrangements accordingly.
Border closures may also present an urgent need to depart from arrangements for those children who are required to travel to spend time with the other parent.
Given the escalation of the situation a review of changeover location may also be necessary to ensure compliance with the requirements for social distancing and exposure to the coronavirus generally.
It may be necessary for parents to consider a contingency plan for future arrangements, particularly given how quickly the COVID-19 circumstances have escalated. This should include consideration of the following:
- How parenting arrangements should change if a family member contracts COVID-19, or is required to be in isolation; including involving communication via Facetime or videoconferencing and the frequency of communication in these circumstances, and generally.
- A review of current changeover locations to ensure the safety of all involved.
- Agreement on whether any “lock down” period should be considered the same as a school holiday period under any parenting orders.
- A change to any supervision arrangements.
- Immediate notification to all parties if the child or a family member becomes unwell.
If you cannot agree and end up forcefully departing from court orders, depending on the facts, the current circumstances may be deemed to provide a “reasonable excuse’, which would act as a defence to any contravention proceedings.
Should you require any assistance to navigate this confusing time, our family law team is available to help and can be contacted during normal business hours via email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) or by telephone on (03) 9663 9877.