In a statement issued on Thursday, Chief Justice Will Alstergren of the Family Court of Australia – who is also the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia – recognised that parents are “naturally deeply concerned” about the safety of their children in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and will be even more worried about how it will impact upon a parent’s or carer’s ability to comply with parenting orders.
In the highly unusual circumstances now faced by Australian parents and carers, Alstergren CJ continued, there may be situations that arise “that make strict compliance with current court orders very difficult, if not, impossible”.
“This may be caused, for instance, where orders stipulate that contact with a parent occurs at a designated contact centre, which may not currently be operating. Or, the “pick-up” arrangements of a child may nominate a particular school, and that school is now closed. Many state borders are also closed. In addition, there may be genuine safety issues that have arisen whereby one parent, or someone in close contact with that parent, has been exposed to COVID-19, and this may restrict the safe movement of a child from one house to another,” his honour reflected.
“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.”
“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,” his honour said.
At all times, parents or carers must act reasonably, Alstergren CJ reflected.