With the outbreak and spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), we are living in very strange, and perhaps, scary times. The uncertainty about what we can and can’t do to contain the virus is worse for parents who are in the middle of a relationship breakdown or have parenting orders in place.
Do those orders have to still be followed? Do we still go to Court? What about my scheduled mediation, will that still occur? So many questions. Let’s break down what we know at this point in time, to help you as best we can.
In short, if you have parenting orders in place, you still need to comply with them, even if you are practising social distancing. Although it’s understandable you may wish to limit the amount of time your children spend away from you, breaching orders because you want to keep them home is not an excuse.
If you can, talk to the other party (even if this means getting a third party involved to help) and see if you can start an open dialogue with them about your concerns and options for amending orders by agreement if that is something you wish to consider. It may be that everyone can come to an agreement about limiting your children’s time outdoors and away from the vulnerable, and generally undertaking social distancing.
In circumstances where you and your children may be isolated as a result of a public health order, then it is important to still allow your children to have phone or other contact with the other parent, be that through FaceTime, Skype or any other option available to you. If you can, once any quarantine period is over, chat to the other parent about potential makeup time so that your child is able to spend time with the parent who missed out.
If you are self-isolating due to a quarantine order, and the other party threatens to take you to Court because you are breaching Court orders, we are currently of the view that the Court would likely accept the reasons why the orders were not followed. However, simply breaching orders because you don’t want to follow them because of the current situation would likely not be accepted.
Generally, with some notable exceptions, the Family Law Act requires parties to attend mediation if they cannot agree on parenting arrangements for their children. This can take place face to face, via a shuttle conference or by telephone.
In the current COVID-19 climate, mediations are still taking place, although we at Foye Legal are requesting that mediation take place via telephone to practice social distancing. This seems to be becoming the norm in many law firms, where appropriate. This approach allows our client’s to still fulfill their requirements under the Family Law Act, but in a safe manner.
Everyone at this point is understandably very anxious about attending Court at this time. Court complexes can be extremely busy places, with hundreds of people packed into the one building.
We have received notification that the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court’s are addressing these concerns by urging practitioners and parties to make arrangements to attend Court by telephone wherever appropriate.
Any high volume lists required to be conducted in person will be staggered to reduce the number of people in attendance in the Registry, and the number of people allowed in a courtroom at any one time (other than the judge and their support staff) is limited to eight people. Any additional people involved in matters must remain outside the courtroom or can appear by telephone if appropriate. All matters that can be appropriately conducted by telephone should proceed in that way.
Unfortunately, we expect that some non-urgent property matters, and even some parenting matters may have hearings adjourned until a later date. We will continue to keep abreast of any updates, and as always, we at Foye Legal work towards settling matters in a timely manner without resorting to the need for a Court application. The virus situation does not change this approach.
We understand that these are unpreceded circumstances that have the potential for added anxiety and stress. Rest assured we are doing what we can to comply with any and all health directives while working to keep your matter moving so you can get on with your life.