2020 has so far been a year of uncertainty, with plans changing constantly and many day-to-day activities being restricted. One of the many ways that COVID-19 has impacted families is in regard to care arrangements for children during the pandemic. If you’re unsure of your legal rights and obligations regarding care arrangements during COVID, read on for our answers to commonly asked questions.
Do i need to continue existing care arrangements during covid-19?
While you may be tempted to suspend usual care arrangements for your child(ren) during COVID-19, you are legally required to maintain all exiting court-ordered care arrangements, unless you have a reasonable excuse to do so (more on this below). While legal obligations are not so tight on informal arrangements, it has been recommended by the Family Court that these arrangements also continue as usual, where it is safe to do so. Remember that consistency and routine are vital for maintaining functional care arrangements.
What about current travel restrictions?
Increased restrictions due to COVID-19 means that you need to stay home unless absolutely necessary, particularly in Melbourne and surrounds. However, transporting children between homes is permittable within Victoria, even under the firm level 4 restrictions currently in place in metropolitan Melbourne. According to Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), you may leave your home “if you have shared parenting obligations and need to transport children between homes, under an informal or court-ordered arrangement”.
For care arrangements where parents or guardians live in different states, check the latest information on border closures before continuing existing arrangements. Should strict border restrictions be in place, this can be seen as a reasonable excuse not to continue existing care arrangements at this time. If you are unsure whether or not you are allowed to travel between states for care arrangements, we recommend seeking advice from the local state authority for your area – in most cases states are working together to allow usual care arrangements to continue.
Am i still permitted visitation rights?
If you do not have shared care of your children, but instead have existing plans in place for visitation of your child(ren), this is again permissible in Victoria under ‘caregiving and compassionate’ reasons. The DHHS’s Stage 4 Restrictions Summary states that you may leave the house, “if you are the parent or guardian of a child and you wish to visit the child because they are in the care of another person or organisation, or you have obligations in relation to the care and support of the child”.
As with travel restrictions above, seek advice from local authorities regarding visitation of children between states.
What if i, a family member or my child(ren) are sick and/or quarantined?
If you are under medical advice to remain in isolation due to illness or suspected Coronavirus contamination, this is a reasonable excuse not to continue existing care arrangements. Should this occur (or you are unable to travel due to government restrictions), you should discuss with the other parent/guardian(s) ways that your child(ren) can keep in touch with all parties, perhaps via phone or video call.
If you are unable to come to an agreement between parties, contact us to discuss dispute resolution options. If a decision cannot be reached, you can apply to a court to decide how care arrangements should proceed during the pandemic.
At the end of the day, your usual care arrangements for your child(ren) should continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, except in cases of suspected contamination and/or should government travel restrictions between states disallow.