In these unprecedented times, many parents are trying to navigate their way through co-parenting with little to no guidance on what is the ‘right’ thing to do.
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have recently released some helpful guidance on their website which may assist you and your family.
In essence, the main concern of the Court remains “what is in the best interest of the child?” A child’s health and well-being are paramount in this jurisdiction. Whilst everyone is negotiating these difficult times, the Court reminds you to consider what is best for your child.
It may be that strict adherence to Court Orders is not possible. For example, the situation may arise where one parent is in forced isolation or there are vulnerable family members living under one roof, and frequent handovers would not be in the greater family’s best interest. Perhaps handovers require interstate travel, or handovers are supposed to occur at a Contact Centre or school which may be closed. It may even be that one party has been exposed to COVID-19 and the safety of the child may be compromised.
In these uncertain times, the Court is urging families to use common sense. Where possible, the spirit of Court Orders should be adhered to, even if strict compliance cannot be achieved. Think of alternative ways to ensure the child spends regular and meaningful time with each parent. Applications such as FaceTime, Skype, and video messaging can be used more frequently in circumstance where physical contact cannot be facilitated.
It is paramount in these times that parties open the lines of communication and work together for the greater purpose of their child’s health and safety. Parties need to talk openly about issues which may affect their capacity to follow Court Orders, and where possible, parties should re-negotiate the terms for this short period of time. Note that if you have a matter currently before the Court, your behaviour during this time can be looked back upon by the Court when considering your case at a later date. For example, using COVID-19 as an excuse to refuse facilitating changeover where there are no legitimate health or safety concerns for your child will likely be looked upon unfavourably by the Court. In the inverse, working together in a courteous and reasonable manner demonstrates your genuine commitment to ensuring the best interests of your child.
If an agreement can be reached, even just for this interim period, it should be put in writing and signed off by both parties. This can even be done via text message, email or WhatsApp. If a long-term agreement can be reached, we at Hume Taylor & Co can help you to ratify that agreement into the form of Consent Orders. This is a cost effective and quick way to vary agreements in a legally binding manner that does not require you to attend at Court. Please contact our offices today if we can assist you.