On 26 March 2020, the Chief Justice of the Family Court issued a Statement on Parenting Orders and the affects of COVID-19. The Chief Justice’s statement provided guidance on the listing of matters in the Family Court. It was issued for the purpose of guidance in legal cases and was not a legal principle. It included the following:
Parents are naturally deeply concerned about the safety of their children and how the COVID-19 virus will affect their lives. Part of that concern in family law proceedings can extend to a parent’s or carer’s ability to comply with parenting orders and what should be properly expected of them by the Courts in these unprecedented times.
The purpose of this statement is to clarify that the Courts remain open to assist parties and to provide parents with some general guidance. However, it is understood that every family’s circumstances are different.
It is imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children. This includes ensuring their children’s safety and well-being. Whilst the Courts make orders that are determined to be in the best interests of a child, caring for and determining the practical day-to-day best interests of a child is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers.
Consistent with their responsibilities to act in the children’s best interests, parents and carers are expected to comply with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. This includes facilitating time being spent by the children with each parent or carer pursuant to parenting orders.
If the parties are unable to agree to vary the arrangement, or if it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents continue to have real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders.
Where there is no agreement parents should keep the children safe until the dispute can be resolved. Also, during this period of dispute, parents should ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone.
These principles still apply. The welfare of children is the paramount consideration.
We now have the added threat of a flu epidemic. It is my view that the stated principles of the Chief Justice are just as relevant now as when they were stated by the Chief Justice.
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