On 24 March 2020, the Principal Family Court Judge, Judge Jacquelyn Moran, released a statement of guidance around the many questions posed for children in shared care and how this works with COVID-19.
As is always the case with any care of children arrangements, the overriding consideration for parents is to do what is in the best interests of their children. It is always so important for children to have contact with both their parents, irrespective of the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 or ‘lockdown’. The purpose of the lockdown is to stop the spread of the virus and effectively save lives by staying home and only interacting with those in your ‘bubble’.
Your bubble consists of those you are living within your household. However, when it comes to shared care, your bubble can be stretched to include one other household that is in the same town or community. If the households are more than an hour’s drive away from each other, they are not considered to be in the same town or community. It has now been made clear that a ‘bubble’ can be made up of two households, but no more. If a care arrangement includes more than two households, the children should stay in one household for the duration of the initial 4-week period. Travel between more than two households only increases the risk of spreading the virus.
Children can go between the two households within the same town or community during the lockdown unless:
It is more than one hour’s drive between households;
The child is unwell – in this case the child should not travel between homes until they are well;
Someone in either home is unwell; or
Someone involved (in the home the child is going to or from) has been overseas in the last 14 days or has been in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for COVID-19, or someone who has tested positive.
If children are travelling between households, they must be accompanied by an adult and private vehicles should be used where possible. It is also recommended, where possible, that parents or caregivers carry a copy of a parenting agreement with them when they travel between households, to help explain their travel if stopped.
Where one household is in a different town or community, the safety of the children and others in the household should not be put at risk or compromised by movement between those homes. Therefore, children should stay with one parent or caregiver for the initial 4-week period. In this case it is strongly encouraged by the Family Court that other forms of contact (such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, messaging and phone calls) be increased during this difficult time. Judge Moran emphasised that children are precious and that, more than ever, this is a time to focus on their wellbeing and safety. This includes the children knowing that their loved ones are safe and well, and them being able to see their caregivers via other means. This is also the case where the parents or caregivers are spread between more than two households.
Parents must put aside their differences at this time. The lockdown should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to act in spite of the other and unilaterally change shared care arrangements. Parents are to do what is in the best’s interests of the child, their families and the wider community.
If you need advice in this area, please contact our Family Law Team:
Lucy Conway – 03 443 0924 / 021 910 598 and Gillian Stuart - 03 443 0915 / 021 929 590