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How to co-parent with an ex during the coronavirus lockdown

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Times are uncertain. Active cases of Covid-19 in Australia are growing, and lockdowns are being extended. These extra pressures can make parenting harder than it usually is, particularly when you are co-parenting with an ex-partner. Below are some frequently asked questions and some suggestions about how you might approach these complex parenting discussions. 

How do I support remote learning in different households?

Schools remain open for those children of parents who cannot work from home and vulnerable children, however the ACT Government has asked that where possible, students be kept at home throughout the lockdown. On top of any work requirements, parents now face the challenge of ensuring that their children are engaged throughout the day. Different households may take a varied approach to remote learning, so it is important that each parent remains up to date with their child’s progress and try to achieve a consistent approach to learning expectations. 

Where possible, it may be worth setting up a conference call with the other household to establish some ground rules for remote learning. It will be an adjustment for all parents working from home, while also managing your child’s education and entertainment needs. This is why it may be beneficial for both households to discuss strategies for remote learning, to maintain consistency during the lockdown. 

Should my children still go between households?

In the ACT, you are allowed to leave your home to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children. 

You are only able to visit another household for certain approved reasons or for compassionate purposes. Intimate partner visits are allowed, and single parents who live alone with their children can also have one other household that they can visit or receive visits from. That other household can be in addition to the home of your former partner (where the children frequently spend time).

Nominating another household for mutual contact can however create tensions, where children are potentially being exposed to a wider range of contacts (and with the obvious risks for the other parent’s household too). Before visiting another household with your child, we recommend that you discuss this with the other parent.  Basic courtesy is especially important when different people operate under different risk profiles. 

Try to be on the same page with the other parent about what will you do in your respective households to limit exposure to Covid-19 and protect the children. Be open and honest about any concerns that you have. You may have a different response to the circumstances, but it is important to respect any differences in opinion and work together to reach a solution for your children.

What if my ex-partner lives in NSW? 

The ACT government has directed that if one parent lives in NSW (in approved postcodes), transporting children for contact/shared care is considered an essential reason to leave the ACT. 

If the other parent lives outside approved postcodes, you will be required to apply for an exemption to re-enter the ACT and you may be required to enter quarantine.  Working that out before you get on the road is essential. 

If your care arrangements require interstate travel further afield, it is important to check the current restrictions in each State/Territory. Further information about the ACT’s lockdown restrictions is available here.

What if my child gets sick?

If your child becomes sick during lockdown, you are able to leave your home to access essential healthcare. If you have symptoms of Covid-19 you should get tested. Once you have been tested and are waiting for a test result, you need to stay at home. Test results are usually ready within 48 hours. 

In terms of parenting arrangements, getting tested and isolating / quarantining afterwards may impact your existing arrangements. It is essential to check government restrictions and communicate with the other parent about any changes to your circumstances which might affect care arrangements. 

If you can, try to be accommodating of changes. If time cannot occur due to restrictions or quarantine, it might be worth suggesting make-up time occur at a later date. These are unusual and challenging times, so being understanding and generous to each other is invaluable. 

What if we are both in quarantine?

Where there are Court Orders in place:

  1. If you have the children and your household is in quarantine, and the other parent’s household is also in quarantine, the children can travel to the second household during the quarantine period so long as there is a contactless hand-over.  
  2. If you have the children and your household is in quarantine (household A), and the other parent’s household is not in quarantine (household B), the children can travel to the second household during the quarantine period provided the second household is willing to quarantine for the same length of time as the first household (household A) and there is a contactless hand-over.

Where there are not Court Orders in place:

  1. Pursuant to advice from the ACT covid-19 hotline, where there are not Court Orders in place, the children cannot travel to the other parent’s household during the quarantine period, regardless of whether or not that second household is in quarantine. 

This can be frightening and stressful for adults who can understand what is going on, but even more so for children who may be hearing frightening messages about getting sick and people dying.  Try to be open with the other parent, and establish a plan for what will happen after you are out of quarantine. Being calm in times of high stress can be difficult, but staying calm will help you to reduce conflict, and is especially beneficial for children, who will absorb so much of what is going on around them. If you are not sure about your current parenting arrangements, or you are required to quarantine and are not sure about whether your children should still go to the other parent, it is worth contacting your family lawyer to help clarify things. 

What if I can’t comply with the Court Orders?

You must meet your obligations under the terms of Court Orders. 

There are some situations where you will not be able to comply with Orders as a result of the pandemic. This should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For example, supervised contact with a parent at a designated contact centre may no longer be possible if the centre is closed. Further, there may be genuine safety issues arising if one parent, or someone in close contact with that parent, has been exposed to Covid-19 or is required to quarantine as a result of government restrictions.   

If you anticipate that you will not be able to comply with your obligations, try to give the other parent plenty of notice and explanation about what is happening, so they are able to adjust their own expectations. 

If your usual changeover location is a school or public venue which is now closed, try to nominate another neutral and public location where social distancing practices can be maintained. 

You can still facilitate contact with your children and the other parent by using video calls or via telephone.  

The pandemic cannot be used as a blanket excuse for not complying with Court Orders and you should do what is reasonably necessary to comply with the Orders. When changing the arrangements, try to act in the spirit and intent of the Orders.  

What if we can’t agree?

If you can’t reach an agreement with the other parent, it may be beneficial to access a conflict resolution service such as Relationships Australia or a private family dispute practitioner. Family lawyers are also able to assist you with communicating with your former partner (or their lawyer) and can assist in facilitating dispute resolution pathways.  

You should only go to Court if you have exhausted your options in trying to reach agreement (if the matter is not otherwise urgent). Pursuant to the new rules of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, there are a number of pre action procedures that must be followed prior to filing a new application with the Court. Please see the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia website for further information: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/pubs/fl/pre-action-parenting 

Will I be in breach of the parenting Orders?

A parent is not in breach of their orders if they have a reasonable excuse for not complying with Court Orders. It is important that parents maintain communication, whether verbally or in writing, and keep each other informed about any updates to their circumstances. Ideally, you should try to reach an agreement with the other parent, which is in writing, about new arrangements. 

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have established a specific court list which deals exclusively with urgent family law disputes arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. If your matter is suitable for the Covid-19 list, it will be listed before the Court within 3 business days of being filed (or within 7 business days if assessed as being of priority but not urgent). 

Matters that are suitable for the covid-19 list include: 

  • matters involving family violence associated with the Covid-19 pandemic; 
  • medical complications from having contracted Covid-19 or concerns about quarantine requirements;  
  • difficulties regarding travel arrangements to facilitate care arrangements;
  • where current arrangements involve supervised contact and the contact centre is closed.

Further information about the Covid-19 List is available at: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pd/fam-covid 

Taking care of yourself  

Juggling life in a lockdown can be difficult, and everyone will respond differently. Parenting in lockdown might require a little extra patience, either with the other parent or your children. If you can, try to find some space for yourself too. This might just be what you need to deal with any potential conflicts arising from extended lockdowns. 

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