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Family law parenting arrangements: How to maintain certainty in uncertain times

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have recognised the impact that COVID-19 restrictions may have on an individual’s ability to comply with, and implement, pre-existing parenting orders.

Whilst split-parent households have the ability to create confusion and unease at the best of times, the Courts acknowledge that recent restrictions may also affect a party’s ability to successfully co-parent.

Traditionally, in the event that parenting orders were unable to be complied with, or should one party unilaterally breach court orders, the affected party would have the option to commence court proceedings in order to bring the matter to the Court’s attention. This system, filled with delays, was once the only option available.

From 29 April 2020, the Courts established a dedicated COVID-19 list. COVID-19-affected matters would be given priority and listed urgently. To be eligible, you must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  1. The application is filed as a direct result of COVID-19;
  2. The matter is urgent;
  3. The application is accompanied by an affidavit;
  4. You have made attempts to resolve the dispute; and
  5. The matter can be dealt with via phone or videoconferencing. 

A common example of a matter which would satisfy these requirements is one involving supervised contact. In some matters with pre-existing parenting court orders, one party is ordered to spend time with the child or children for specified times at a supervised contact centre. Given the current restrictions, many supervised contact centres have been closed, impacting on the ability of the parties to comply with the orders.

Another example is parents who reside in different states. Whilst this example is less common, for parents who have maintained a successful co-parenting relationship between states, the travel restrictions in place would limit one parent’s ability to comply with court orders.

If you or somebody you know has had their existing parenting arrangements impacted directly as a result of COVID-19, or if you want to further discuss your parenting arrangements and how they could be impacted in the future, please contact our Family Law Team to discuss your matter.