How to deal with custody issues during pandemic

DIVORCED parents have been urged to negotiate "common sense" changes to children's living arrangements and child support payments during the coronavirus crisis.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said "these are extraordinary times" and separated parents should "try to work together to make changes that are in the child's best interests" if a family needs to go into quarantine.

"There will be situations where a parent has a genuine concern for the health and safety of a child," she said.

"They should raise that with the other parent, and try and reach a joint decision that promotes the child's safety and wellbeing."

Ms Wright said parents should adhere to court orders and parenting plans, but negotiate temporary changes "if situations arise due to COVID-19".

In a guide to "pandemic parenting", the Law Council says parents must abide by court orders for shared custody "unless a reasonable excuse applies".

"If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met - eg quarantine, travel restrictions or because schools close - use common sense to find solutions to challenges," it says.

"If you anticipate a change, give the other parent plenty of notice and an explanation so they also have time to adjust.

"Courts will increasingly have limited availability, dispute resolution services may be hard to access and commonsense coupled with respectful engagement may be the surest path."

The Law Council advises parents to start planning for alternative changeover locations that are "neutral and public".

"Think about whether you will be required to work from home and whether that is feasible when children are in your care," it says. "If time arrangement with the other parent … cannot occur, find other ways to try to maintain the connection - including digital communications."

The Law Council says parents should immediately tell each other if a child shows symptoms of COVID-19.

It warns parents may lose their jobs or earn less money during the coronavirus crisis.

"This may impact what can be paid by way of child support or the contribution to other expenses," it says. "Try to be understanding of the situation the other parent is in - financial worry will probably exist in both households."

A Family Court and Federal Circuit Court spokeswoman said judges were "acutely aware that the current pandemic is having an enormous impact on Australian families".

"The courts have implemented revised arrangements to ensure that all urgent and priority matters are able to be dealt with safely, while at the same time ensuring appropriate social distancing is adhered to," she said.

Originally published as How to deal with custody issues during pandemic

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