To say that COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our lives is an understatement. From remote work to homeschooling, social distancing has come with many challenges. Not the least of which is shared parenting arrangements.
Parents from all over Australia have reported a variety of concerns and issues related to coronavirus co-parenting.
Some parents have used the pandemic as an excuse to deny visitation to co-parents. Other families are dealing with travel restrictions. No matter your concern, it’s now more critical than ever before to understand your rights.
With that in mind, let’s explore the continually evolving situation with COVID-19 here in Australia and how it should and should not impact pre-existing co-parenting agreements.
In response to the pandemic, the Government has taken unprecedented measures. These include social distancing and self-isolation measures, border closures, and more.
Are you a co-parent? If so, you likely feel the impacts from these restrictions even more acutely. Particularly if they infringe on your ability to co-parent or see your children.
You may also have concerns about the safety of your children. You may wonder whether or not your current parenting arrangements should continue. These are understandable worries.
That said, the general rule of thumb remains complying with the court orders in place as long as it is safe to do so. Telling the difference between when it is and is not safe to do so can be problematic, though.
Coronavirus has exacerbated co-parenting arrangements in Australia. Some of these arrangements were already fraught with contention. Adding the stress of a global pandemic has, by no means, helped.
Custody Arrangements in the Time of Pandemic
Are you currently contemplating breaching your court order? Perhaps due to fears associated with COVID-19 exposure?
You must understand that the mere concern of exposure to the virus is not a compelling enough reason to violate a custody arrangement. As for parents with concerns about moving children back and forth between two households? Your best bet is to discuss these anxieties with your children’s other parent.
Together, you should work towards devising a solution that keeps your kids’ best interests at heart.
Of course, we understand that not all former partners can have this type of discussion. In situations where it feels unsafe to do this, explore mediation options. Working with a neutral third party can ease the charged nature of such negotiations.
Before taking any steps that circumnavigate the current court order that’s in place, we highly recommend seeking legal advice. You can get started here.
Otherwise, your seemingly well-intentioned actions could get misinterpreted.
School Closures and Co-Parenting
Many parents also have questions related to school closures. They want to know whether these closures have any impact on their current co-parenting court orders.
Again, you must attempt to stick to your court order. These orders remain binding despite the pandemic. The same applies to co-parenting plans, too.
What if you have a court order or parenting plan that appears ambiguous when it comes to how school closures should be interpreted, however?
Schools are preparing to continue educating students online or through self-directed learning. Nonetheless, some parents have asked whether school closures should be considered as “holiday” or “term” time? The answer to this question depends on the wording in your parenting plan or court order.
Does your order refer to “gazette school holidays”? If so, this reference refers to a holiday that’s established by the Government as mandatory. Furthermore, it’s published in the Government Gazette, the document dictating the calendar for each jurisdiction.
You should consult with a solicitor experienced in family law to fully understand your rights and what your court order or parenting plan stipulates under these circumstances.
Examples of Unclear Parenting Plans and Court Orders
When it comes to shared parenting arrangements, there may be discrepancies in language. These confusing passages make navigating the current situation more difficult. For example, returning to “gazetted school holidays,” this term has fallen out of use in many agreements and orders.
What’s more, children enrolled in independent or private schools often have holidays scheduled at times other than the official school calendar. What to do if your order or plan remains silent or ambiguous about school holiday time?
For most school-aged children, Australian courts will likely interpret COVD-19-related school closures as a continuation of school term through electronic learning.
For younger kids in childcare, early learning centres, and kindergarten, however, available schoolwork is more limited for remote learning. After all, much of the school day for younger children is comprised of playtime, craft time, and simple alphabet exercises.
Depending on the age of your kids, school closure could be interpreted as term time or holiday time.
What to do? If possible, start by having a conversation with your co-parent. Don’t stop there, though.
You should also seek the assistance from a member of our exceptional team of lawyers to make sure that you’re upholding your order or plan.
Co-Parenting During the Coronavirus
Of course, at the heart of any family court order or parenting agreement is the objective of maintaining a calm and stable home environment for kids following divorce or separation. This motivation should also be of primary importance to you and your co-parent.
The coronavirus situation is not only stressful for you and your children’s other parent. It’s also stressful for kids. Especially since they have a limited ability to understand what’s going on and how it ultimately impacts them.
Wherever possible, look to provide stability for your kids at this time. That means creating a calm and nurturing environment and acting appropriately.
The loss of a regular school schedule or childcare routine can feel unsettling to kids. Both you and your co-parent should work hard to create stable environments free from further disruption.
You must stay well-informed during this crucial period. That means looking to reliable news sources for your information and doing further research as needed. Since the coronavirus crisis started, there has been a plethora of misinformation.
Avoid social media rumour mills and stick with news sources backed by scientific data. Comply with all recommendations from the Government and model good behaviour for your children.
That means wiping down surfaces and other objects that get frequently touched. It also means maintaining social distancing and washing your hands often and properly.
Be sure to go over handwashing techniques with your kids to make sure that they’re staying healthy, too.
Act Wisely and Reasonably
Reflect carefully on your actions. It’s understandable that you might experience agitation and confusion. Now’s not the time to act rashly, though. Make sure your efforts don’t get perceived as unreasonable or intentionally leading to adverse outcomes for your co-parent.
For example, if your co-parent must miss out on scheduled time, consider options for make-up time. Do this as soon as possible, too.
Why? To prevent unnecessary disruptions or a sense of instability for your children.
You should also try to maintain the status quo as much a possible. In other words, don’t renegotiate your entire parenting plan or court order due to the pandemic and school closures.
Instead, do everything that you can to be compliant with the current court order or co-parenting plan. Of course, certain extenuating circumstances might warrant a different approach.
These include the necessity for self-isolation following exposure to a person infected with the virus. Or a positive COVID-19 test in your or your co-parent’s immediate family.
You and your co-parent should do what you can to maintain a sense of regularity. It would be foolish, however, to assume that nothing will change. After all, people are being advised not to vacation or fly. Many businesses have shuttered temporarily to fight the spread.
Depending on you or your co-parent’s jobs, one or the other may have to work longer hours than usual. Dealing with this crisis will require flexibility and creativity.
In other words, plans will inevitably have to change. Fortunately, we live in an age of unrivalled technology, which makes communication easier than ever before. Make sure you take advantage of it.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Using platforms such as Skype and FaceTime can help you maintain your child’s regular schedule. That means embracing technology wherever possible.
It’s also an excellent idea to keep kids busy with drawings or crafts that they can work on and then email or send through the post to your co-parent. These small gestures will go a long way toward keeping everyone more connected and involved despite social distancing.
You should also communicate clearly and regularly with your co-parent about messages from school. Ideally, you should plan how to proceed together when it comes to school closures.
As for changeovers that typically occur in public places with lots of people? Opt for a setting that’s more in keeping with the Government’s social distancing restrictions instead.
What About COVID-19 Exposure?
What should you do if your children display signs consistent with coronavirus? Or, they have been exposed to a confirmed case?
Start by contacting your co-parent. If your child requires isolation or quarantine, it may be appropriate to pause the current schedule for your court order or parenting plan. However, open communication remains key to making such decisions.
Your transparency and honesty are critical for the safety of your children and your other loved ones. Seek out proper medical attention as needed, but remember to remain calm for you and your children.
Be Understanding and Generous
Coronavirus is impacting everybody. Yet, it’s having a more significant monetary impact on some individuals than others. As a result, you need to remain understanding and generous.
After all, many employees have been sent home or laid off. Economic hardship is a nasty side effect of COVID-19. Your co-parent may not be able to avoid lost earnings.
For both the parent paying and the parent receiving child support, understanding and communication are necessary. Parents who pay child support should try to provide something, even if it’s not the full amount.
Parents who receive child support also need to be more accommodating with the parent who might not be able to meet their financial burden at the moment. Adversity presents a fantastic opportunity for co-parents to come together and focus on what’s best for the children.
Many children will come away from this pandemic with vivid memories of its impact. Both parents must provide safety and security during this time.
Try for Reassuring Honesty
How do you talk to your children about the pandemic? It’ll require honesty mixed with a heavy dose of reassurance. Cultivate a calm attitude and try to answer your children’s questions with the best available scientifically-backed information.
At the same time, avoid exposing them to offhand comments or an endless stream of media coverage intended for adults. Children have trouble separating hype from reality. Exposure to media can lead to unnecessary stress and worry.
Encourage your children to express their concerns and ask questions. Then, to the best of your ability, provide them with truthful answers that are age-appropriate.
Parenting Arrangements in the Time of COVID-19
Coronavirus co-parenting comes with unique challenges. After all, we live in difficult times. Inflexibility on either co-parent’s part could lead to undue stress for children and an even greater sense of fear.
Our family law solicitors can help you navigate this difficult time. We’re experienced in a range of matters relating to the family. If you have any enquiries pertaining to your current co-parenting arrangement and the coronavirus pandemic, don’t hesitate to contact us.