Written by Michelle McDermott
It goes without saying that the coronavirus is a ‘once in a generation’ event for the bulk of our society. Who had ever heard the term ‘social distancing’ before this year? The thought of self-isolation, when first mentioned, seemed so draconian. And as for the rush on toilet paper, don’t get me started!
The reality is, however, with each passing day, the coronavirus is generating special challenges for all of us and particularly for parents of children who are separated or divorced. Family lawyers are being asked how best to manage parenting arrangements.
The first thing to consider, I think, is to remember that children are also nervous and anxious, and to see their parents fighting about them only adds to their emotional distress. It is vital that parents communicate well and work together to ensure that the best interests of their children are prioritised, to limit the ‘fear factor’ for them and to keep spirits up. These are unchartered territories for all of us. The spread of the virus is not an excuse to cut off another parent or to deprive the other parent of time with their children.
Secondly, the coronavirus is a public health emergency and a time for keeping everyone safe. Parents need to have a collective approach to keeping the children away from crowds and older people. Even if there are Court Orders in place, parents can still agree to vary the Orders while social distancing and isolation are being encouraged. The current situation may inevitably result in modifications, albeit temporary, of parenting time and resolved with makeup time to the other parent.
Next, any parent that is isolating their children due to health concerns should be making every effort possible to continue to allow the child to have a relationship with the other parent, even if it is not in person. Children benefit from maintaining regular direct contact with both parents and their extended families and parents need to be creative, flexible and accommodating. Use Facetime, Skype, Zoom or whatever is needed to ensure that regular time occurs.
However, what do parents do when feeling torn between breaching parenting orders and wanting to limit their children’s movements? How do they manage if one parent wants to remove a child or children from school whilst the schools are not closed yet; or changeovers if schools were to close; or is there an obligation to cease all holiday plans, despite Court Orders permitting this?
Parenting orders continue irrespective of whether children are attending school or daycare/ kindergarten. If they are closed, parents will need to abide by the Orders and organise their employment so to be able to care for their children on their days or make alternate arrangements with the other parent.
Further, what happens when one parent wants to remove a child from school, and the other parent does not? The answer is simply that unless the matter ends up in Court, the parent not wanting to remove the children from school will continue to take the child to school whilst with them in their week, whilst the other parent does not take the child to school on their week, if it were considered in the child’s best interests.
If parents cannot agree, they should try to resolve issues by mediation or other alternate dispute resolution means. The family law Court system will be stretched to their already stretched limits for the distant future.
If you have any questions or concerns about your parenting matter, please do not hesitate to contact our office.