In this article, we will discuss what impacts COVID-19 is having on parenting arrangements requiring a parent’s time with their child to be supervised.
First, it is best to clarify what supervised time actually looks like and why it might be required in certain circumstances.
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) sets out that the paramount consideration for parenting arrangements is the best interests of the child. Parenting orders need to weigh up the right of a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents with their right to be protected from any risk of harm. If there are circumstances whereby a child may be put at risk in spending time with a parent, sometimes putting arrangements in place for that parent’s time to be supervised will be appropriate. The idea behind supervised time is that it should be able to minimise a child’s exposure to conflict or situations that would make them unsafe, whilst still enabling the child to maintain a relationship with the parent who is alleged to be a risk.
There are 3 options for supervised time in parenting arrangements:
There are benefits and drawbacks to all 3 options for supervised time.
For example, utilising a family member/other appropriate agreed person to supervise time will mean little-to-no financial cost. Private services and contact centres report on the supervised time, which can be a useful tool to help move forwards. Contact centres are more cost-effective than private services, but they tend to have long waiting lists for that same reason, meaning there can be delays in time commencing between the parent and the child.
It is important to remember that each unique parenting situation will require consideration of which supervision scenario would best suit it. It is crucial to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible should supervised time be considered necessary in order to determine the best path forward.
The Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 (NSW) came into effect on 31 March 2020 in New South Wales. This legislation has drastically reduced the ability of persons to move freely as they once were able to. People are not able to leave their place of residence without a reasonable excuse and are not able to gather in public in a group of more than 2 persons unless such a gathering is deemed as essential.
Reasonable excuses for leaving a person’s place of residence are set out in the legislation at Schedule 1. Included in the list is “undertaking legal obligations”. If you have parenting orders requiring that a parent spend supervised time with a child, then you are able to leave the home to facilitate this in accordance with the orders.
However, making things slightly more difficult, some supervision services have changed the way they are functioning which has made complying with orders challenging or even impossible.
The majority of children’s contact centres have ceased their services, meaning that parties previously attending the centres pursuant to orders are now no longer able to do so. This is understandably extremely upsetting for parents who have been affected by this change.
We have all heard about how important it is to work together in these difficult times, and this is another example of where parents should try (if safe to do so) and find alternative methods. But if that is not possible, and you have been adversely affected, please ensure that you seek legal advice in order to determine what other options are available to you to keep building a strong bond with your child.
A large number of private supervision services have changed the way that they are functioning as well. Some services have restricted the location at which they are willing to facilitate the supervised time, in order to protect the staff and families using the service. Some services have made the move to enhance their previously offered services by adding a new online supervised time feature. Imaginably, online supervised time may not be appropriate in all circumstances, particularly if children are quite young, however an additional option for seeing children for some families would be very welcome during this unprecedented time.
We are a firm of experienced, compassionate and dedicated family lawyers who deal with the difficult issues arising from parenting disputes every day.
We are on top of the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation and are following the directives of the Family Law Courts closely.
Our team is still working (mostly from home), and are available to meet with you on Zoom, Skype or speak to you on the phone in the event you need advice about how to manage COVID-19 and your parenting arrangements. We look forward to meeting with you soon.