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Easter is normally a time for families to get together and often is the subject of dispute between those parents who have not yet sorted out what time their kids will spend with which parent. The COVID19 restrictions make it hard for some people to understand what is expected of them, what they can and what they should not be doing with their children. It is important to stay up to date with the current restrictions and to understand what they mean for you and your family. This means the responsibility is on you to read the latest government posts on their websites and to stay informed from other reliable sources.
Gatherings of more than 2 in public is banned unless you are a family going out together or members of the same household. The Federal government has made it clear you should be staying at home and self-isolating unless you are:
- Shopping for what you need and necessary supplies
- Attending to medical or health care needs
- Exercising in compliance with the public gathering restrictions
- Attending work or study if you cannot work or study remotely
At present Victorian Police are stopping individuals and querying their movements and fines can be issued on the spot unless you satisfy one of the permissible categories for being out of self-isolation. The fines are $1,652 for individuals and $9,913 for businesses who break the COVID19 restrictions set down by Chief Health Officer.
Specifically, the government has made it clear that we are not to attend our usual church or synagogue services over the Easter/Passover period. For many this is the holiest time of their religious calendar and families are urged to find another agreed way of celebration/observance and ensure that the parents agree as to what they can do remotely and together. Religious leaders have become creative and use You tube and other online fora to help their communities come together, remotely, to participate. Only those services such as weddings or funerals with restricted numbers can access places of worship.
For those families who look forward to the Easter break being the last holiday prior to the shorter and colder days of the winter months, the usual travel to holiday destinations has been ruled out by governments – State and Federal. In Victoria Stage 3 restrictions are now in place which means staying at home is now enforceable. The same four reasons to be travelling are the same as set out above.
Caravan parks are closed except for those who use the park as respite from family violence and any other vulnerable users of the parks and those who live in such parks on a permanent basis.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has specifically told Victorians not to travel for holidays. Those who are lucky enough to own a holiday home and travel from their principal place of residence to their holiday and intend to practice self-isolation will not pose a threat to the community to which they are travelling and therefore this has been deemed permissible. Victorian Police will be present on the roads to stop those travelling and they will need to satisfy one of the reasons for travel.
Court Orders and Compliance
Compliance with Court Orders in relation to children and them spending time with each parent will be permissible and it would be wise to carry with you a copy of the sealed Court orders to satisfy the police of your reason for travel. In earlier blogs I have covered the circumstances in which a parent may have a reasonable excuse not to comply with orders, but this will not prevent the other parent from pursuing a case in relation to a breach of Court orders if they so choose. The parent who withholds the children who are the subject of Family or Federal Circuit Court orders will need to present evidence of having a reasonable excuse within the meaning of the Family Law Act. You cannot say you were worried or concerned that the children would be exposed to COVID19 if they stayed with the other parent. That is not a reasonable excuse. It has to be based on a factual set of circumstances whereby the Court would conclude that there was sufficient reason not to comply with the Court order.
Communication is the Key
It is far preferable for parents to be open and frank with each other about what measures they are putting in place to ensure that their household is compliant with COVID19 restrictions and recommendations. This means sharing information about who is habitually a member of your household, whether others are expected to be staying in your household and if so, if those people have been compliant with self-isolation restrictions and if not, what agreed protections will you agree to in order to ensure the protection of the children whilst visiting that household. Less clear would be a parent taking children to the supermarket which is permissible however the restrictions on behavior when in public must be adhered to and the parents need to discuss how best to manage this particularly with younger children who may not be as observant or as consistent in remembering not to touch anything unnecessarily.
Ahead of the end of the current school holidays, parents also need to cooperate in relation to schooling and in the event that children do not return to school, as is looking likely, but will be schooled remotely, there has to be agreement between parents as to consistency and reinforcing the school’s curriculum. This is not the time for one parent to be popular and allow a different rule in their house.
Children crave and thrive best when they have clear boundaries, are parented in a consistent manner and they know where that invisible line is which they must not cross. Parents need to stay in touch about what the children are doing, how best to manage distractions and fatigue in the home classroom. There are many examples of effective home schooling readily available to parents to learn from and many closer to home than you’d think. In Australia the rural and remote communities have been home schooling for years and parents have learned a trick or two along the way to keep their children on track and motivated. Again, communicate with each other what has worked well and what your children have responded positively to and be prepared to share this with each other. This is not a competition between separated parents were one is declared the victor – this is really about putting the needs of the children ahead of some parental point scoring exercise.
The information in this blog does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by you. If you require advice specific to your situation you must contact Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers. The contents of this blog are relevant as at 9 April 2020. We recommend you obtain specific advice relevant to you and your family’s situation.
By Caroline Counsel
Caroline Counsel is an Accredited Family Law Specialist, Nationally Accredited Mediator, a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and Principal Lawyer of Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers