Article written by Nardine Collier
Family Lawyer Cairns & Alice Springs
In times of crisis, parents have to work together like never before. I say it all the time, co-parenting after separation is very hard, but I have just seen it become even more so in the face of so much uncertainty and fear. Things are changing daily and parents are understandably very concerned about the safety of their children in this crisis.
Here are my top tips for Parenting in a Pandemic (taking some inspiration from the Family Court/Federal Circuit Court recent release for parents/carers on their website).
#1 – Follow existing arrangements and in particular court orders, as best you can, while you can. Strictly following court orders may no longer be possible; for example, the handover place you have been using is now closed. Many state borders are also closed. So, find a practical solution – a different place. Extra time next school holidays.
#2 – Have sensible conversations NOW – not only about your ability to comply with current orders; but what will happen in the event of a lock-down. Try to adopt a practical, “common-sense approach”, that keeps to the ‘spirit of the orders’; but most importantly always considering the safety and best interests of your children. The best outcome for your children is if you can work together to vary arrangements so that children maintain contact with each parent in a safe way.
Record any agreements about new parenting arrangements, in writing.
#3 – Try to understand the concerns of the other parent when negotiating new or revised arrangements. If you are proposing the other parent’s time with the child is restricted, unless they can understand your concerns, they will be opposed to what you suggest. Be mindful that your idea of what is ‘safe’ in this new world may not be the same as the other parent. What can you do to find a solution? If you are the parent who wants to keep the children with them, look at arranging extra contact with the other parent such as Skype, Facetime or telephone. Perhaps ‘make-up’ time could be considered, if appropriate.
#4 – Mediation is still a great option. The court website advises that if parents are unable to agree, they can make an on-line application to vary existing orders. However – unless it is a case involving family violence, child abuse or is urgent, parents are still required to make a genuine effort to try and sort it out their dispute through family dispute resolution (mediation) before filing an application for parenting orders.
If you do file an application, don’t expect the court will be able to act quickly- except in urgent cases or where the court considers children are at risk. The court is operating in very difficult circumstances and can only deal with priority matters.
#5 – Get advice. Not just from your Lawyer, but from health professionals, schools etc. Be up to date with the latest Government advice, it might have changed overnight.
Unfortunately, I foresee many situations arising where there will be no agreement, where one parent feels they have had a care arrangement imposed on them by the other parent. This is why it is important to talk about these issues now. You don’t want to be having these conversations in the panic of a lock-down. (At the time of writing this article there has been no such announcement but the indication is, it could happen).
Finally, a plug for the KEEP IT IN CAIRNS (#doitwithalocal) campaign. Every single person in Cairns will have been affected by this virus. We all know someone who is now out of work. If we can spend every dollar locally, we help keep businesses open and locals in jobs.
Nardine Collier is a Nationally Accredited Mediator and has been mediating Family Law disputes for over 25 years. She is a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, a Family Law Arbitrator, a panel Mediator for various Australia wide organisations and for courts and tribunals. Nardine regularly mediates at Legal Aid conferences in Family Law, in Cairns and Alice Springs. She is also the Cairns Representative of the Queensland Chapter of the Resolution Institute of Australia.