Separated parents are facing a range of new challenges in the wake of COVID-19. To contain the spread, the government has directed people to stay at home except when carrying out essential activities. But children of separated families will still need to move between households.
When this happens, one parent may have concerns about the safety of children attending school or childcare while in their ex’s care, or whether their former partner will adequately supervise their children’s online schooling.
Parents may also worry their ex may not be following the current guidelines on social distancing or lives with an essential service worker who may be more likely to transmit the virus to the children.
So what can parents do to cope?
Your legal rights
By law, after separation both parents have what is termed “parental responsibility”. This means, unless the court orders otherwise, they are required to consult each other about major long-term decisions such as education and medical treatment.
But each parent can make day-to-day decisions when children are in their care such as what children will eat and what activities they will do each day.
If parents have family court orders or parenting plans that stipulate the time children spend with both parents, they should follow their terms unless they both agree on other arrangements.
If one parent doesn’t feel comfortable with children attending an education provider while spending time with their former partner, they should discuss their concerns with their ex and try to reach an agreement.
If one parent doesn’t feel comfortable with children attending an education provider while spending time with their former partner, they should discuss their concerns with their ex and try to reach an agreement. There may be a range of options depending on whether there are alternate care providers and how geographically close parents live to each other.
Parents may consider adjusting their portions of time or the particular days or weeks on which children spend time with each of them.
Another scenario that has come up in practice is conflict arising between separated parents where one is not following the social distancing guidelines. Children are returning from visits and revealing they have spent time socialising – such as at playgrounds and barbecues.
In this instance the concerned parent should raise their concerns with their ex and see if they can agree on a set of guidelines that take into account government directives.
But what if we don’t agree?
The law states parents must act in the best interests of their children. Where parents cannot agree on what these are, the court has a list of best interests factors that must be considered. These include the benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with both their parents balanced against protection from harm.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia has made it clear if parents cannot reach agreement on new arrangements they should generally follow their court orders unless their children’s safety is compromised.
If a parent is seeking to deviate from family court orders due to health concerns the Chief Justice has said such requests "should be considered sensibly and reasonably. Each parent should always consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent when attempting to reach new or revised arrangements. This includes understanding that family members are important to children and the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered."
The federal government has said children can still attend school and childcare if needed, such as when they are children of essential workers. So within the law, one parent can continue to send children to school or childcare.
If a parent decides to withhold time from their ex because they deem them to be breaching the social-isolation requirements, a court would need to decide if the parent had a “reasonable excuse” for failing to follow court orders.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.