The emergence of COVID-19 has been fast and unprecedented. It’s easy to see how people may become flustered and act hastily in the first flush of confusion and agitation caused by the disruption of work, school, extra-curricular activities and day-to-day life.
We’ve provided our top tips for navigating parenting arrangements and keeping child-focused amongst the chaos.
If you have court orders in relation to parenting, those orders are still binding and should be followed. Similarly Parenting Plans also remain in effect.
We understand most schools are preparing to offer online or self-directed learning to students in the event the school needs to close for a period. In the event your child’s school does close, there may be some issues as to whether the school’s closure should be considered ‘holiday’ or ‘term’ time. This depends on the wording of your specific orders or Parenting Plan.
In some situations, your orders may refer to ‘gazetted school holidays’. The reference to ‘gazetted school holidays’ refers to the concept of a holiday that is said by the government to be mandatory, and which was published in the Government Gazette which dictated the calendar for each jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, the phrase ‘gazetted school holidays’ has fallen out of use, and children in private or independent schools will often have different school holiday dates to those in the state school system. If your orders are silent or unclear about school holiday time, it’s likely that school closure could be seen as a continuation of school term where a child’s studies continue electronically.
Younger children such as those in childcare, kindergarten and early learning centres may have more limited classwork available remotely (such as simple alphabet exercises or playtime), so the question of whether a closure is ‘term time’ or ‘holiday time’ may be even more confusing.
Above all – talk to your co-parent and seek advice if you are unable to agree on arrangements.
Create calm and act appropriately
We would hope that parents, whenever possible, will look to provide stability for their children at this time. The loss of a familiar school or childcare routine is unsettling – it’s your role to create calm rather than further disruption.
Take the time to consider your actions carefully – ensure those actions cannot be seen as unreasonable, or as intentionally creating negative consequences for your co-parent. If your co-parent needs to miss out on scheduled time, consider options for make-up time as soon as possible.
Keep the status quo
It is not necessary to re-negotiate the entity of parenting arrangements due to COVID-19 or potential school closures. Be compliant with your existing arrangements unless you both agree to alter them or unusual circumstances (such as self-isolation) apply.
Consider ways you can facilitate your child’s normal routine and relationship using platforms such as FaceTime and Skype.
Keep younger and older children busy with a drawing or craft project that could then be emailed or posted to your co-parent.
Communicate and seek clarity promptly
Talk to your co-parent about any school messages and plan what you both will do in the event school or childcare is closed for a period. If changeovers are to occur at a public place with lots of people, propose alternate arrangements.
If your child shows symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or has been exposed to a confirmed case, contact your co-parent immediately. If your child requires isolation, it may be appropriate to pause the operation of your parenting arrangements, but communication is key.
If you have queries, reach out and seek advice. Your matter does not need to be ‘on hold’ throughout the COVID-19 disruptions.
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court remain open, with alternative options such as hearings via telephone available if urgent parenting disputes arise.
Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners and Mediators are available to conduct virtual sessions via electronic platforms. You may well be able to narrow some or even all of your issues in dispute without leaving the comfort of your home.
For details of all our COVID-19 tips and updates, visit the Gadens COVID-19 Hub.
Jason Walker, Partner
Louise Dorian, Special Counsel
Joanna Shiff, Associate