Even before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020, COVID-19 has been on the world stage.
When we are being told to stay at home, not gather in groups, borders are being closed and quarantine and isolation is being imposed, what does this mean for children going between households of separated parents?
Where there are Parenting Orders in place, parents are still required to comply with those Parenting Orders, unless there is a reasonable excuse, or there is an agreement between parents for other arrangements.
The current ever-changing situation relating to COVID-19 may make it difficult, or even impossible, for parents to comply with Parenting Orders, Parenting Plans or informal parenting agreements. For instance if changeover is to occur at a school, but schools are closed, or if there is to be travel between States for children to spend time with a parent, but travelling between States requires a self-isolation period.
Effective co-parenting can help children, and parents, navigate through and deal with these uncertain times. The responsibility of parents is to do what is in the best interests of their children. This may mean that the normal week about arrangement be suspended for a period, or children not travel interstate to spend time with a parent during school holidays.
If complying with Parenting Orders, Parenting Plans or informal parenting agreements, becomes difficult or it is in the best interests of children for other arrangements to be put in place, parents should communicate and work together to reach agreement for practical and reasonable alternative arrangements. If an agreement can be reached between parents for arrangements that differ to the usual parenting arrangements, then the agreement should be in writing, even if it is only by email or text message. This is particularly important if parenting matters end up before the Federal Circuit Court of Australia or Family Court of Australia.
It is not always easy for separated parents to reach agreement however, and in those situations parents can seek legal advice, engage in Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), or seek assistance of family/friends to mediate between parents.