27 Mar How to interpret your parenting orders
While we all begin to grapple with the realities of COVID-19, we are taking steps to protect those who we love, including our children.
Often without deliberate intention we surround ourselves with an army of people to care for our children. We turn to our schools, teachers, grandparents, doctors and support people for help. We engage our children in the wider community so they can be social, learn and grow. This is now limited, and our children are no longer able to engage with the wider community, outside of their school and home.
We recommend taking some time to review what parenting arrangements you have in place for your children during these difficult times.
Are you able to speak to your previous partner about the existing arrangements, and are they in line with the state and federal government directions?
Do you have sealed parenting orders in place?
Despite challenging times, you remain bound to comply with parenting orders which were, undoubtedly, entered into, or determined by a Judge in very different times. You must balance your need to comply with parenting orders and your children’s wellbeing, amongst the national crisis.
You must decide whether or not, you can demonstrate that you held a genuine belief that not allowing the children to spend time with another parent or party to a parenting order, is necessary to protect the health and safety of your children. If you can prove that, you have a reasonable excuse.
What is a reasonable excuse?
For example, if a parent has travelled overseas recently, or has contracted COVID-19, or you are complying with the parliament’s directions, it is unlikely that you will be criticised for failing to comply with a parenting order.
The most important thing for you to do, is be honest and open with the other parent or party to a parenting order, who is unable to see your children.
You must communicate with them that in the current climate that you are unable to follow the usual parenting arrangement.
Are you missing out?
If you are a parent who has spent time overseas, or you are a medical professional who is in isolation or anyone who is unable to see your children, reach out to the other parent, and try to reach an agreement for make-up time.
During this time, make arrangements for your children to spend time with you via Skype, video or facetime, so your relationship with your children stays strong.
Some common issues to be mindful of:
Are you spending time with your children interstate or overseas?
Where is your handover location?
When will the school holiday period commence and conclude?
Overseas or interstate travel.
From our point of view, this is a no go. As you would be aware, at this time, you and your children can not travel overseas for leisure. We believe you will fail to argue that travel to visit a parent overseas is ‘essential travel’ unless in exceptional circumstances. We encourage you to steer clear of travelling in general.
If you are travelling interstate, keep an eye of your state and federal parliament’s directions as these directions are ever changing. It is crucial that your children can return home safely, without the need for strict isolation or missing school.
Are you no longer able to attend the agreed handover location or travel to handover? If so, firstly, consider whether or not there is a default order in place. Is there any part of the order that provides for an alternate location or another option for handover? If so, engage that option. Secondly, are you able to agree with the parent to deviate from the orders in exceptional circumstances. You may agree to suspend part of the orders or reach an agreement during these uncertain times.
Is your handover usually at a Park, Shopping Centre or McDonalds? Consider whether you are comfortable with that in the current climate, or if you need to review this.
If your handover at a Children’s Contact Service? The Children Contact Services around South Australia are suspending their changeover program until further notice. You must be aware of this and take steps immediately to make alternate arrangements. Speak to your partner, spouse or lawyer about making sure you can put something in place to ensure you do not miss out.
School holiday periods
Amongst the health crisis, there may be some changes to the school holiday periods, and you need to be aware of when your school holiday time commences.
If your parenting order says you spend half the school holiday period with the children as agreed between the parties, you may wish to start a conversation with the other parent or party to the parenting order, about what that means for you in these upcoming school holidays.
Communicate about what is best for the children in the current climate, and what steps you will each take to ensure the children are kept safe from the ever growing COVID-19.
If the parliament changes the school holiday period, extends it for one more week, you must consider what affect that has on your school holiday arrangements.
If you are concerned that the other parent may not be very forgiving when you return to Court or try and negotiate your parenting arrangements in the future, if you do reach an agreement, put it in writing, send a text message or draw up a Parenting Plan.
Now more than ever, coparenting is essential for the health and safety of your children.
If you need assistance navigating your existing parenting plan or you require assistance understanding your responsibilities and obligations pursuant to a Court Order, call us to discuss your situation.
For more information this link – https://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/pdf/10MRCOVID19.pdf has been issued by the Court, and provides you with some general guidance and assures that whilst changes to the Courts’ operations have been implemented, the Court remains open to assist families in these challenging times.
Do you need to review your parenting arrangements? Everyone has a different agreement, and different circumstances, so if you are unsure, get advice.
We are here to help in these uncertain times.
Solicitor at Resolve Divorce.