While many States in Australia adjust to rapidly increasing rates of Omicron, many parents are feeling concerned about how to ensure their children’s safety. With minimal restrictions in place and vaccinations now available for children, it can be difficult for parents to know what is best for their children. Separated parents are navigating uncharted territory as they try to agree on social distancing protocols, childcare attendance and having their children vaccinated. When separated parents disagree on issues such as these, it can result in tension and conflict and negatively impact the co-parenting relationship. Disagreeing parents have a number of options available to them to resolve their conflict.
Seek Family Dispute Resolution
The first step is to seek family dispute resolution (FDR) with an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner. With many FDR services now providing online services, accessing mediation is easier and safer than ever.
If, however, separated parents simply cannot reach agreement, there are a few legal concepts to consider. According to Family Law, separated parents each have shared ‘parental responsibility’ unless the Court determines otherwise. This means that parents are to consult each other before making major decisions that impact upon their children such as medical treatment and education. Similarly, each parent has responsibility to make day-to-day decisions when their children are in their care.
For those with existing parenting orders
For parents who have parenting orders in place, the spending time arrangements set out in the orders should be adhered to unless both parents mutually agree to vary the orders. Circumstances have arisen however since COVID19 where sometimes the provisions of parenting orders are frustrated and unable to be followed due to circumstances outside the parents control.
Examples of parenting arrangements frustrated by COVID19
Parents with a positive COVID19 test result, for example, have been unable to meet changeover arrangements. Other situations have seen one parent withhold children from the other parent due to concerns about underlying health conditions in the child that make them more susceptible to the harmful risks of COVID19 particularly if the other parent is unvaccinated or working in a high risk occupation.
If circumstances such as these were contested, the Court would consider whether in the specific circumstances there was a reasonable excuse for not adhering to the parenting order. Ideally, parents discuss their concerns and issues either at FDR or independently and reach mutually agreeable alternative arrangements.
It is important to remember that COVID19 presents new challenges for the family law system and separated parents. There are heightened levels of anxiety and uncertainty among families and it is helpful to be mindful of the impact the current COVID19 situation is having on people’s mental health. Approach disagreements with compassion and empathy and attempt to reach resolutions, writing any agreed changes to current parenting arrangements and seeking family law advice when you need it. Contact us today if you require any advice specific to your situation.