In January 2020, a virus named COVID-19 started infecting Australians and tourists visiting Australia. The virus has been the cause of many deaths in Australia. As a result, the Australian Government has adopted some reasonably drastic measures in an attempt to save lives and limit its transmission around the country.
This virus has the potential to impact on all separated parents who have an arrangement (via Court Order, or otherwise), whereby the parents share the care of the children of that relationship. The question we are constantly being asked is, “Is it safe to continue shared care?”
The most important principle is that parents, always, should act in the best interests of their children. If it is in the children’s best interests to remain at home and not spend time with their other biological parent, because a real and present danger of transmission of the virus exists, then the children should stay at home. If a real and present danger does not exist, then the children should spend time with the other biological parents as agreed or ordered by the Court.
An example of a “real and present” danger is, you have recently returned from overseas travel, been in contact with someone who has recently returned from overseas travel, are unwell, or have recently been in contact with someone who is unwell. If that is the case, then safety is paramount and your post separation shared care arrangement should be suspended, until you have been tested for COVID-19 and cleared.
At this stage, the Queensland Government has not restricted or prohibited travel from one separated parents house to the other, to affect a “changeover” of the children. Travelling to drop the children at the other parent’s house is not illegal. If you effect changeover at a contact centre, and that contact centre is now closed, then it is expected that you make a reasonable, sensible and practical alternative arrangement to affect the changeover.
If you are the subject of a Court Order, then you should make every reasonable effort to comply with the Order. If you contravene a Court Order, you should have a very good explanation for doing so. If you are not subject of a Court Order, then agreed shared care arrangements for the children, should continue as they were prior to the virus arriving in Australia.
It may be necessary to alter previous arrangements, or Court Orders, for a short time, because of the virus. If that is the case, try to make sure that any modification to previous arrangements is in writing, to avoid any confusion. These changes may later be used as evidence in a Court. It is also important that any such changes do not offend the “spirit” of the previous arrangements, for example, if the previous arrangements were one week with one parent, the next week with the other, it would be difficult to justify a change such as 10 days with one parent and 4 days with the other.
If you cannot resolve a dispute that has arisen because of the virus, then you should seek legal representation and we here at MCG Legal are Gold Coast Family lawyers working throughout Australia and can provide that advice to you
The guidelines about self-isolation and effective medical treatment, are ever changing and this article is not intended to provide anyone who reads it with medical advice, but it will provide separated parents with guidance regarding the legal position on shared care parenting arrangements, as it relates to COVID-19. If you would like to know the most recent Government medical recommendations you should access www.health.gov.au, or see a Doctor.