If I think back on the year that was 2020, I immediately think of this scene at the start of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. These are mad times we live in! Mad!
Yep, 2020 was a mad year alright. And as 2020 turns into 2021 and we start to settle into what could probably be best described as the new normal, I started to think about how my clients will continue to co-parent in Covid-19 times. Afterall, it’s been a year since we started hearing about this virus in the media, so it seems, it is not a fleeting thing which will pass, but something we all just need to learn to live with.
Let’s face it, co-parenting with an ex is not always the easiest thing to do, and Covid-19 has not been the easiest thing to deal with, so what is the best and easiest possible way to manage co-parenting in COVID-19 times?
1. Ensure you have Parenting Orders or a Parenting Plan
The most important thing to is to ensure arrangements are properly documented and enforceable through Parenting Orders or a Parenting Plan. If you don’t have Orders or a Parenting Plan in place, this is something I would recommend attending to as a matter of priority, even if you and your ex-partner have an agreed arrangement. It’s important that these documents are practical, enforceable and in the best interests of your children, so it’s highly advisable that you engage a family law solicitor to prepare the documents for you, even if you and your ex-partner have an agreed arrangement.
2. Comply with the Parenting Orders or Parenting Plan
It’s of limited benefit to have Parenting Orders or a Parenting Plan if one or both of you aren’t going to comply with it. So, my second piece of advice, is stick to the Parenting Orders/Parenting Plan you have in place. Like with most rules though, there are exceptions, and these would be if you and the other parent both agree to variations to the Orders/Parenting Plan, or if your child would be at significant risk of harm if the Orders/Parenting Plan was followed. If the latter exception applies to your situation, it is critically important that you seek advice from an experienced family law solicitor as soon as possible.
3. Covid-19 is no excuse for the children not to see the other parent
My third piece of advice is less so advice and more a fact – given how long we have been living with this virus now, a Court is unlikely to view Covid-19 alone as a reason that children should not be spending time with both of their parents. Of course, the exception to this is if a child is unable to travel to spend time (for instance if they have to isolate following being tested, or if there is a travel ban from the Government which prevents it).
4. Check the travel rules
If your parenting arrangements involve any kind of travel to a location outside of your local area (for instance a child travelling from New South Wales to Queensland to visit the other parent, or even from Newcastle to Sydney) make sure you check the travel rules, restrictions and requirements before travel arrangements are made, and right before the travel occurs. These travel rules seem to change very frequently, so there may be forms that need to be completed for the travel to go ahead, there may be a period of quarantine that is needed after the child arrives at the location, or the travel might not be permitted. The last thing anyone wants is their child stuck at a border, unable to get to where they are meant to be. On this note, I would also add purchase travel insurance with all flights! It’s just not worth the money you might lose if a travel ban is suddenly instituted.
5. Notify the other parent and try to agree on make-up time
Fifthly, if the parenting arrangements are unable to be complied with due to Covid-19 (for instance because of travel bans or a child needing to isolate a home following being tested), to avoid any subsequent drama from the parent who missed out on time, it is always advisable to notify that parent as soon as possible, that the agreed time cannot occur, and make arrangements for make-up time to occur at a later date.
6. Make sure your child goes to school unless directed not to
My sixth piece of advice is something I’m actually quite disappointed I have to say: unless the Government, a medical practitioner or the school directs you not to, or you are unable to due to isolation following a test, send your children to school! Covid-19 is not an excuse for a child to miss months on end of school, and no Judge in the country would see it as one. There are some minor things you might like to vary if you personally wish to isolate as much as possible, such as having changeover at each other’s houses rather than the school or a public location, but irrespective, your child needs to go to school.
And finally, as long as it is safe for you to do so, communicate with the other parent, and if in doubt, seek advice from a family lawyer. If you have any concerns about your parenting arrangements in light of Covid-19, and particularly this new and seemingly vicious strain, call Emily Ostler on (02) 4050 0330 or book an appointment online.