COVID-19 Restrictions and How They Impact your Family Agreements
With the current restrictions placed on everyone as a result of COVID-19, there are many concerns raised by separated couples as to how these restrictions impact families and their agreements with school closures and employment. These include how the family courts currently operate, whether current parenting arrangements are sustainable or workable, and how property settlements can take place with falling superannuation balances and house prices.
Here are some of the common issues at present which might be causing you concern.
In the meantime, the team at Lakey Family Law and Mediation is open and available to take enquiries on all family matters, as well as mediation enquiries.
During these uncertain times, we are offering:
- Free initial phone or email queries
- Online (Zoom) or telephone family dispute resolution
- Online (Zoom) or telephone property mediation
Availability of court resources
Both the family courts and the Magistrates Courts are continuing to take applications, but urgent matters will be given priority in listing. Many matters currently in the system are being adjourned or held by telephone or remotely. It is important to realise that going to court is not a quick fix to resolve an issue, as delays are inevitable at present.
Parenting arrangements during COVID-19 lockdown
Currently there is an exemption to self-isolation requirements for children to travel between households pursuant to parenting arrangements. This may change if a parent or child is unwell. The fact that school holidays were extended and it is unknown as to whether children will return to school in the foreseeable future may mean that current parenting arrangements need to be altered.
For example if one parent is still working and does not have alternate care arrangements in place, short term changes to care arrangements may need to be implemented. The need to self isolate older members of the community may also impact on the availability or appropriateness of grandparents assisting with child care. At this stage some day care is still available but this may change in the upcoming weeks.
It is important that if parenting arrangements are not currently viable or if they put the child’s or a family member’s health at risk, common sense dictates parents working together to find a solution to protect everyone in the community. Short term changes should not seen to be something that should last long term, and need to negotiated and agreed. Urgent family dispute resolution may assist in short term parenting plans to be implemented.
Given the rules about meeting people in public places, changeover points may also need to be re-negotiated.
Where interstate travel is required to facilitate changeover, the closing of borders and reduction in interstate flights may make these arrangements difficult, and may also place the health of the child or family members at risk.
We recommend that if parenting arrangements are impacted by COVID-19, that additional make up time is offered and extra remote communication is encouraged through Facetime or Zoom.
Previously agreed to property settlements that have yet to be implemented may need to be reconsidered in the light of falling share markets, superannuation and property value, as well as difficulty in selling houses. Instead of agreed super splits, perhaps a percentage division can be agreed or the superannuation split delayed to allow time for the funds to recover.
Consideration of dealing with home sales and negotiating with lenders to reduce or put on hold payments may be worthwhile considering. The ability to withdraw superannuation could also assist in property settlements.
Current child support arrangements should also be considered in light of falling employment and reductions in wages. The Child Support Agency should also be advised of any change of income going forward.
Above all, it is important to know that there are many resources and help available to assist families in this situation. Feel free to reach out with any questions. We are all in this together.
For more information, please see the following government resources:
- Radio interview with Chief Justice Alstergren – Parenting arrangements and COVID-19
- Information for parents – questions and answers
- What you need to know about COVID-19.
- Frequently asked questions about COVID–19.
This article was written by Annette Lakey and first published on the Lakey Law website at www.lakeylaw.com.au
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Legally Yours Pty Ltd accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.