Sporting activities are being cancelled, schools might close, grandparents may not be able to care for children and self-quarantine is recommended for sick children and their parents and perhaps soon for all of us.
What does this mean for parenting orders made before the pandemic?
Complying with court orders
Court orders should still be complied with during the pandemic if at all possible – meaning that children will still move between their parents' homes if they can.
If quarantine or virus-related circumstances prevent you from complying with your orders, get on the front foot immediately.
Before COVID-19's arrival in Australia, a parent would be regarded as being in breach of a court order if they withheld the children from the other parent, without a reasonable excuse.
While we do not yet know what the court will consider a 'reasonable excuse' in the context of coronavirus (especially as the courts are only hearing urgent matters at this time), your dissatisfaction with the other parent's level of hygiene is unlikely to be considered a 'reasonable excuse' for withholding time.
If, however, the other parent had advised you they have been diagnosed with coronavirus or are displaying symptoms, or the child is in quarantine or isolation with you, such grounds are likely be considered a reasonable excuse.
During the pandemic, a greater level of communication will be needed between parents to try and agree upon arrangements that are not in accordance with court orders. If you are proposing to change care arrangements, then provide the other parent with as much notice as possible, set out clearly your health concerns and any recommendations you have received from medical professionals, and (if your relationship is not ordinarily great) put your communication in writing.
If you or your children are required to self-quarantine (for instance, due to overseas travel or a doctor's recommendation) such that the other parent will miss out on time with the children, offer make up time when quarantine is over.
Telephone calls, FaceTime or Skype are also a good way to keep the other parent in touch with the children during periods of imposed absence.
Changeovers and care arrangements
Where changeovers would ordinarily occur at school or a crowded public place, consider what alternative locations would be possible for changeover and make some proposals to the other parent. If emotions have abated since orders were made and there are no issues of family violence, it may be possible for changeovers to occur at your home instead of a public place.
If you or your children are displaying symptoms of coronavirus, inform the other parent immediately and try to work together to implement the safest possible plan for care arrangements.
Where grandparents would ordinarily care for children, perhaps consider alternative caregivers or supervisors. In the case of supervision, younger family members or contact centres may be more appropriate and enquiries should be made with them immediately so that contingency plans are put in place.
While panic buying continues, let's try to avoid panic parenting taking hold. Anxiety breeds parenting disputes, so good communication between parents is vital during this time.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.
This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.