We are all experiencing uncertain and unprecedented times in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Parents with parenting orders in place may find themselves in unique situations that make strict compliance with court orders difficult. This may be so if, the orders stipulate contact is to be supervised at a contact centre and that contact centre has now closed, or changeover is to occur at the children’s school and that school is closed.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Will Alstegren, issued a statement on 26 March 2020 assuring parties that the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will remain open to assist parties and provide parents with general guidance.
Communicate with each other to find a practical solution
Chief Justice Alstegren suggests as a preliminary step (where it is safe to do so), you should communicate with each other about complying with current orders and attempt to find a practical solution. Options should be considered reasonably and sensibly.
Parents and carers should understand the importance of family members spending time with children and consider the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household.
Chief Justice Alstegren implores that even if orders cannot be strictly adhered to and are varied by the parties, the spirit of the orders should be respected, and parties must act in the best interests of the children.
Put it in writing
If you and your co-parent can agree on alternate arrangements, this agreement to be in writing ie. via email, text message or WhatsApp.
This will become particularly important in assisting the Court if there are further court events.
Contact a lawyer
If you are unable to reach agreement, contact your lawyer. They can help parents mediate an agreement and recommend short-term alternate options where necessary.
Your lawyer can assist to develop new orders which can be filed electronically with the Court. Parties do not have to attend Court for orders to be made by consent.
Approach the Court
If you are unable to reach agreement to vary the current arrangement or it is unsafe to do so, and strict compliance with the arrangement is no longer possible, you should contact your lawyer for advice on your obligations and consequences of non-compliance.
Where both parents have real concerns, the parties can (if they wish) approach the Court electronically to vary the orders.