Impact of Covid -19 Issues on Family Law Child Care Arrangements
With the rapid spread of Covid-19 infections worldwide and the consequent sudden and dramatic government imposed restrictions on human movement and general contact, separated families which have been operating under existing Family Court consent orders, parenting plans and/or personal informal agreements are understandably in a present state of confusion as to where their rights and responsibility lie in the current environment where we are all facing in the imposition of government restrictions (including large fines for non-compliance) not to mention the medical advice about the extreme nature of precautions that we must all now take to avoid causing the spread of infection.
If these issues are currently impacting upon your family, here are some important tips to take note of:-
- The Chief Justice of the Family Court has in recent days, issued a public announcement to state that as far as the Family Court is concerned, parents currently bound by Family Court Orders are expected to continue to adhere to those orders in terms of facilitating change overs between households for the care of their children and ongoing co-operation between the parents concerning the making of decisions for the children’s welfare. The Chief Justice’s announcement also confirms that if any particular household is actually impacted by a Covid-19 infection then obviously in those circumstances, both households will need to comply with the government restrictions on self-isolation but short of an actual infection, the court has clearly stated that it will not tolerate behaviour where one parent is, for example, refusing to allow a child to return into care of another parent on suspicion that that parent or persons with whom that parent associates might become infected.
- Parents who have entered into child care arrangements under the terms of parenting plans or informal personal agreements are not directly answerable to the family court should they breach those arrangements however the message from the Chief Justice in many ways equally applies to these families because if there are breaches in the agreement, the end result eventually will be that one side or the other will be taking the matter to the Court at which time, the Chief Justice’s message will be will certainly become applicable.
- If you are facing a situation where the other parent has refused to return the children amidst unfounded Covid-19 fears, please note that the Queensland Police have NO power to directly enforce Family Court orders. If the police are called as first responders, the only things that they are able to do is take all actions necessary to keep the peace/quell any domestic disturbance and otherwise conduct a welfare check on the children to ensure that they are at least safe and adequately cared for in the household of the parent who is withholding them. The enforcement of the orders can only be undertaken via applying back to the Family Court for a recovery order. Once the recovery order is granted, the Family Court then has the ability to through its Federal Marshal to deputise local Queensland Police Officers to go out to the house and enforce the order and recover the children.
- Without a doubt, if there are issues going on between the parents and they can not sort them out voluntarily then the preferred method for resolving that dispute remains mediation.
We at Zande Law would like to wish you and your family all the very best of safety and good fortune during these troubled times. Should you have particular issues concerning the implementation and operation of Family Law children’s orders amidst this Covid-19 crisis then please do not hesitate to contact our office.
Principle, Zande Law