The parenting journey can both be a blessing and a struggle, especially if you are a separated parent.
Here are “the Top 3 Tips” to get you through this tumultuous period:
Tip 1 – Protect Yourself and Others
Practise good hygiene by:
- covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue;
- putting used tissues straight into the bin;
- washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet;
- use alcohol-based hand sanitisers;
- avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently used surfaces such as bench tops, desks and doorknobs;
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently used objects such as mobile phones, keys, wallets and work passes; and
- increase the amount of fresh air available by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning.
Social distancing. This means staying 1.5 metres away from other people whenever possible.
Self-isolate if you are sick, have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or have recently returned from overseas.
Actions speak louder than words so be consistent (i.e. “do what you say you will do”) in your own household and notify the other parent that you (and other members of your own household) are practising good hygiene, social distancing (and self-isolating if you are sick), in accordance with the Government Health Guidelines. This will show that you are using your best endeavours to protect yourself and others from any unnecessary harm/risk.
Tip 2 – Be Present and Mindful
Inevitably, children will hear and see things about COVID-19 via their friends, school, networks, news and social media.
Depending on the child’s age (and their level of maturity and understanding), a child may not fully understand or process the information constructively. For example, a child may become confused, scared, unsettled and/or frustrated that they cannot go to the local playground or meet with their friends at the local beach/shopping centre/cinema.
Be present and mindful of this. Take time (when plenty of it is currently confined “at home”) to listen and speak to them in a way that they feel heard and understood. Reassure them that you will protect them during this difficult time which, in adopting a big picture approach, is only “momentary” and it will pass.
Make a conscious effort each day to embrace the positive moments, stay connected by phone or social media to friends or family who can support you, and remember that you are the “lighthouse” for your children at this time.
You can only “control the controllable.” For example, the things you can control:
- Your words;
- Your actions;
- Your ideas;
- Your choices;
- Your effort;
- Your mistakes;
- Your body;
- Your attitude;
- Your play; and
- Your behaviour.
Conversely, the things you cannot control – you needn’t be worried or concerned about such as:
- Other’s words;
- Other’s actions;
- Other’s ideas;
- Other’s choices;
- Other’s effort;
- Other’s mistakes;
- Other’s body;
- Other’s attitude;
- Other’s play; and
- Other’s behaviour.
Notice the difference?
In being present and mindful, here are 6 questions which you can ask yourself each day:
- What am I grateful for today?
- Who am I checking in, or connecting with today?
- What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
- How am I getting outside today?
- How am I moving my body today?
- What beauty am I creating, cultivating or inviting in today?
Tip 3 – Comply & Remain Open and Flexible
Having regard to recent the Statement from The Honourable Justice Alstergren of the Family Law Courts of Australia, you should consider the following:
- It is important that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children (being the paramount consideration). This includes ensuring the children’s safety and wellbeing. Whilst the Courts make orders that are determined to be in the best interests of a child, caring for and determining the practical day-to-day best interests of a child is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers;
- Consistent with their responsibilities to act in the children’s best interests, parents and carers are expected to comply with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. This includes facilitating time being spent by the children with each parent or carer pursuant to Parenting Orders;
- In these highly unusual circumstances now faced by parents and carers, there may be situations that arise that make strict compliance with current Court Orders very difficult, if not, impossible. This may be caused, for instance, where Orders stipulate that contact with a parent occurs at a designated contact centre, which may not currently be operating. Or, the “pick up” arrangements of a child may nominate a particular school, and that school is now closed. Many state borders are also closed. In addition, there may be genuine safety issues that have arisen whereby one parent, or someone in close contact with that parent, has been exposed to COVID-19, and this may restrict the safe movement of a child from one house to another;
- As a first step, and only if it is safe to do so, parties should communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current Court Orders and they should attempt to find a practical solution to these difficulties. These should be considered sensibly and reasonably. Each parent should always consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent when attempting to reach new or revised arrangements. This includes understanding that family members are important to children and the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered;
- If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements, even if they are to be adjusted for a short period of time, this agreement should ideally be in writing, even if by way of email, text message or WhatsApp between each other. This will be particularly important if there are later family law hearings and will assist all concerned, including the Court, to understand what agreement may have been reached. As specialist family lawyers, we remain ready, willing and able to assist by formalising a parenting agreement via a Parenting Plan or a Parenting Consent Order (whereby each document is legally different and has their associated advantages and disadvantages);
- Parents and carers can also mediate their differences through lawyers (as litigation should always be considered a “last resort” option). As a long-standing specialist family law firm, we remain ready, willing and able to assist here;
- If a parenting agreement has been reached and consent orders have been developed to outline new or varied parenting orders, consent order applications can be filed electronically with the Court. This process is quick and usually conducted without a hearing. We can assist here;
- If the parties are unable to agree to vary the parenting arrangement, or if it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents continue to have real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders. We can assist here;
- Where there is no parenting agreement, parents should keep the children safe until the dispute can be resolved. Also during this period of dispute, parents should ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone;
- At all times, parents or carers must act reasonably. To act reasonably, or to have a reasonable excuse for not complying with Court Orders, is a matter that is considered by the Court (pursuant to s70NAE of the Family Law Act 1975).
- It is important that, even if the Court Orders cannot be strictly adhered to and are varied by the parties, the parties ensure that the purpose or spirit of the Court Orders are respected when considering altering arrangements, and that they act in the best interest of the children; and
- The Courts appreciate that agreement by mutual consent may not be reached, particularly if one party has concern for their physical safety. Therefore, if you or your child is in immediate danger, please contact the Police and feel free to contact us for urgent legal advice.
If you have current court proceedings in the Family Law Courts of Australia, refer to this link for a list of helpful information relating to the Courts and their management of COVID-19:
More than ever during this difficult period, compromise is absolute key here, particularly having regard to the best interests of children. The unfortunate reality is that the Family Law Courts will increasingly have limited availability to determine matters.
Common sense and mutual respect and compromise are much needed now towards achieving final resolution.
Don’t let COVID-19 deter you from finalising your family law matter if you are separated (or even contemplating separation). Being proactive (rather than “reactive”) ensures a timely and cost-effective resolution of your family law matter (whether it involves parenting and/or financial matters).
To discuss how COVID-19 specifically affects your family law matter, please contact us today on (07) 3211 4920 or visit our website: www.emfl.com.au to make an initial appointment over the phone or by video-link.
Please note that this post provides general legal information only and does not provide or intends to provide legal advice.