In the midst of a global epidemic, there are growing restrictions on our day to day activities and we are being asked to stay home to save the lives of others.
Understandably, separated parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the movement of children between their households.
In Queensland, and in many other states we already have directions that we must not leave our homes, without reasonable excuse. You can view the latest Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction released by the Queensland Government on 2 April 2020 here.
The situation is creating uncertainty and confusion for separated parents, particularly about whether or not their children continue to transition between each parents’ household, which could put children and other vulnerable people at risk.
Item 6 of the Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction sets out exceptions of when a person residing is Queensland is permitted to leave their residence. Specifically, paragraph l states:
for children under 18 years who do not live in the same household as their biological parents or siblings or one of their parents or siblings, continuing existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children and siblings, but not allowing access or contact with vulnerable groups or persons;
Example of a vulnerable group or person – a person over 70 years or a person with a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19
In addition to this, the Chief Justice of the Family Courts issued a statement to provide parents with some general guidance. The main takeaways are:
- Parents should always act in the best interests of their children, which includes ensuring their safety and wellbeing;
- In keeping with that responsibility, the Court expects parents to comply with Court Orders and to facilitate time between a child and each of their parents;
- However, there may situations which arise which make strict compliance with an Order difficult or impossible (for example, a designated contact centre or specific changeover location may be closed, or state borders may be closed).
- In addition, there may be genuine safety issues if a parent or a member of a parent’s household, has been exposed to COVID-19;
- As a first step, parties should communicate with each other and find a practical solution;
- If there is a dispute, parents should ensure that each parent continues to have some contact with the child, “consistent with the parenting arrangements” such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone;
- It is imperative that, even if orders cannot be strictly adhered to, the parties ensure the purpose or spirit of the Orders are respected when considering altering arrangements.
As a general proposition, parents should be complying with Court Orders.
In Queensland, there is an exception to the ‘home confinement’ direction, specifically in relation to attendance at any Court of Australia, or to “comply with or give effect to orders of the Court.”
There is a clear intent from Government and the Judiciary, that parents comply with Court Orders and respect the spirit of the Orders where reasonable.
For example, if your changeover location was previously a child’s school or a particular restaurant, it would not be acceptable to simply refuse to facilitate time because you cannot changeover at location specified in an Order. In that case, the Courts would expect parents to discuss the matter and agree to a reasonable alternative.
However, each situation is different and in some cases, parents might have a reasonable excuse not to comply with an Order. For example, one parent might have come into contact with a known case of COVID-19 and be displaying symptoms or, a child’s Doctor might have recommended that a child self-isolate due to a disorder which compromises their immune system.
But what about Parenting Plans? A Parenting Plan is a written agreement between parties, not a Court Order. Are parents still obligated to comply with a Parenting Plan?
This is a more complicated question, but in our view, the same principles should be applied. Parents should still be acting in the spirit of the document, unless there is a reasonable excuse not to.
While breach of a parenting Plan may not leave a parent open to the same consequences as breaching a Court Order, it could still have detrimental impacts on any future parenting arrangement dispute.
Our office remains open remotely to ensure the safety of our staff and clients. Our Solicitors are available via email, telephone and Zoom to speak with you. We remain available and committed to ensuring that you reach a speedy resolution in relation to your parenting matters.
If you have any concerns about your parenting matters, please contact us today on (07) 3532 3826 to arrange a $300 fixed fee initial consultation with Lauren Finlayson, Special Counsel here at Parry Coates Family Law.