Lockdown and child shared custody issues

Lockdown and child shared custody issues

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Lockdown for separated families – what does it mean for you?

With lockdown upon us in Sydney, NSW, confusion is running rife with parents who have shared child time arrangements or orders in place.

Just how do parents apply their unique family situations and abide by the lockdown guidelines as set out by the NSW Public Health Order?

Life during this pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on families right now. We’re dealing with:-

  • Unique work situations – reduced hours of work, to no work at all, to working from home, to doing the role of many because you are classed as an essential worker.
  • Home Schooling – Providing the correct environment (including desk, lighting, WiFi, computers, reduce interruptions etc)
  • Life balance & Mental Health – Those of us without a backyard need to ensure that our families are getting outside, exercising, eating well, and maintaining communication with their friends & family.
  • Financial Pressures – The bills don’t stop during COVID.

For families who have separated, the added pressure of trying to keep up Court Orders with regard to time arrangements is causing confusion and stress.

  • What is defined as a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave home?
  • Are both parents in a lockdown area?
  • Can I visit my child and return home without having to isolate?
  • How do I ensure that my ex-partner is observing the lockdown rules?
  • Do I have to hand over the children as I can’t be sure they will be home-schooled adequately?

“My ex is deliberately avoiding handing over the children due to the lockdown laws.”

A ‘Reasonable Excuse’ to leave your home in the Public Health Order specifically includes compliance with existing or new arrangements for access to and contact between parents and children or siblings. But many questions and confusion still remain as to any breaches that may occur due to the state government’s message to not leave the house.

“Clients are worried that their post-separation agreements may no longer be valid as they predated this pandemic period, and some clients view this pandemic lockdown period as a basis for changing their agreements. Whether or not they are right depends on their individual circumstances” says Sarah Bevan, of Sarah Bevan Family Lawyers.

Most of the questions posed by our clients are very real and valid. These parents are highly concerned. There lies a significant health risk if one party is living with other family or their elderly parents, and isolation rules cannot be relied upon by one of the parents or members of their household.

“Added to this, tensions rise when separated couples are no long on speaking terms, and feel that the other party is intentionally trying to sabotage the situation and restrict time with the children”, says Sarah.

Another concern in family law with respect to mandatory lockdown is for those that are at risk of domestic violence.

Vaccinations and Opposing Views with Parents

And now that vaccinations are approved for children 12 years and older, it is expected there will be disputes between some parents about vaccinations. If parents share parental responsibility, as they all do unless there is specifically an order for sole parental responsibility in place, then they both share responsibility for making these decisions.  And in many cases, there is a positive obligation to consult about the issues.

Mediation will often be a good starting point, and hopefully, parents will be able to reach an agreement via mediation. If not, then the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) has the power to make decisions about vaccinations.

The FCFCOA have established a dedicated COVID list for urgent family law disputes, including vaccination issues, that have arisen as a direct result of COVID. However, as is well known, the courts are suffering severe resourcing pressure and there can be delays.

What are my options for my family law matter during COVID?

Mediation and arbitration may be viable solutions for your matter to be processed, as it can be done through a video conference, such as Zoom or MS Teams with your Family Lawyer.

If you have some questions or need to address your separation with your ex-partner with a Family Lawyer or experienced Mediator or Arbitrator, please contact SB Family Lawyers to discuss.  We are working during this lockdown period and are available to help you.

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