Unfortunately, Greater Sydney currently finds itself in its second extended lockdown (barring the Northern Beaches lockdown in December 2020) since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
It is a situation that many of us did not expect to be in again and it is a hard time for everybody. In particular, the lockdown has placed additional pressure and stress upon separated families.
It has left many parents wondering whether it is safe to continue facilitating their normal parenting arrangements or whether children should only stay in one home.
It is well known that there are limited reasonable excuses to leave your home during the current lockdown, which include to obtain food or other goods and services, to go to work if you cannot reasonably work from home, for exercise or outdoor recreation and for medical or caring reasons.
But did you know that it is also a reasonable excuse to leave your home to continue existing arrangements for access to and contact between parents and children? This means that where children live between their two parents’ homes or live with one parent and spend time with the other parent, the children can continue to go between their parents’ homes in accordance with the usual arrangements or Parenting Orders, if there are Orders in place.
The Family Court expects that where it is possible to do so, parents will continue to facilitate their children spending time with each of their parents in accordance with the usual arrangements or Parenting Orders during the current lockdown.
However, a common sense approach needs to be taken and it may not be possible to continue the to facilitate the usual arrangements in all situations.
For example, if one parent lives in greater Sydney or perhaps New South Wales and the other parent lives interstate, it is unlikely that the usual parenting arrangements will be able to continue due to border closures and/or the likelihood that further restrictions or closures could be placed upon entries into other States.
Another example, is that if one parent lives within the greater Sydney region and the other parent outside of it, whilst the parents are able to travel between their homes to facilitate the children spending time with each other, if the children attend school outside of the greater Sydney region, they may be prevented from returning to school until they have completed a 14 day quarantine period.
Even if two parents both live within the greater Sydney region, it may not be possible to continue the current parenting arrangements. For example, it may not be possible for one parent to facilitate children’s schooling from home due to their requirement to attend work.
Accordingly, the lockdown will create lots of additional issues for separated parents to consider and navigate.
In the event that it is not possible to continue your current parenting arrangements, it is recommended that you facilitate the children spending additional time via phone, FaceTime, Skype or other electronic communication with the parent they are unable to spend time with in order to maintain the relationship between the children and that parent.
Where it is safe for parents to communicate with each other, it is encouraged that parents speak directly to one another to attempt to resolve any disruptions in the usual parenting arrangements due to the current lockdown.
Otherwise, it is a good option for parents to consider obtaining the help of a mediator to resolve disputes between parents, which can currently be facilitated virtually via video link.
In the event that parents are unable to resolve any disputes between them that have occurred due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Court has a special list to hear urgent matters that fall within this category. Court documents can be filed with the Court electronically and an urgent hearing to resolve the dispute can be held virtually via video link.
If you have any queries in relation to the above or wish to speak to a family member of our Family Law Team, please do not hesitate to contact our office on (02) 4626 5077.
The contents of this publication are for reference purposes only. This publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Specific legal advice should always be sought separately before taking any action based on this publication.