COVID-19 and Family Law - What happens now?
Our Family Law solicitors at Acorn Lawyers understand that this is a very confusing and stressful time for all families, particularly those attempting to navigate their way through parenting arrangements after separation.
It is important to note that if you have existing Court Orders, they remain in force and should be complied with where reasonably able to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic may mean however that your existing parenting arrangements for your children are no longer appropriate or hard to comply with. For instance, where one parent is forced to isolate, or the two parents reside in different states.
In these circumstances you should always try to talk to the other parent to find a sensible temporary solution that is in the best interests of the children. If you can reach a new agreement with the other parent, you do not need to go to Court to have the new agreement made into Orders. We suggest acknowledging the new agreement between the parents in writing, for example, in a signed parenting plan, to avoid any future conflict on the issue.
Our Family Law solicitors can assist you with the preparation of any such written agreements, and where it is not safe for you to directly negotiate with the other parent, we can negotiate on your behalf.
What if we have been told to self-isolate?
Given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, it is reasonably expected that you (or the other parent or children) may be required to self-isolate at home if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are awaiting COVID-19 test results, have returned from overseas or interstate or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
If you (or your children) are required to self-isolate, you should advise the other parent in writing as soon as possible. You should also try to get a medical certificate or letter from your doctor confirming that you (or your children) have been asked to self-isolate and provide this to the other parent for their records. If the other parent is forced to self-isolate and the children live with you, the children should remain with you for as long as the other parent remains in self-isolation to avoid spreading the virus onto the children.
In the spirit of co-parenting, you should always try to be flexible when making new arrangements with the other parent. You may want to consider maintaining contact between the children and the other parent via telephone, Facetime or Skype during any period of isolation. You might also want to consider arranging for "make-up" time once the isolation period has concluded.
What if we can't agree to anything between ourselves? Where to from here?
In all family law parenting matters, it is important that the focus is always on what is in the best interests of the children and keeping the children safe.
If you cannot reach a new agreement with the other parent, or you cannot follow the Court Orders because of COVID-19 you may need to consider commencing Court proceedings. Court proceedings should always be used as a last resort, however, in some circumstances it is simply unavoidable.
The Family Law Act requires all parties to attempt family dispute resolution before commencing proceedings. Mediation is a less formal setting that facilitates meaningful discussions between yourself and the other parent with the assistance of a qualified mediator to address the issues that you each have. Mediations can be arranged privately, or through Legal Aid NSW. You can participate in such mediations on your own, or with legal representation. There are of course some circumstances where mediation is not possible or practicable. For instance, where there are safety concerns or circumstances of urgency.
Our Family Law solicitors at Acorn Lawyers are experienced in parenting matters and can assist you with all your needs. We will carefully guide you throughout the often difficult and emotional process.
Author: Irfana Kamerasevic, Associate