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A family violence lawyer’s guide to covid-19 and families

A family violence lawyer’s guide to covid-19 and families

Kelly Leydon, Principal Lawyer, Accredited Specialist in Family Law

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on ANMF families who are separated or separating, and those experiencing family violence.

Parenting arrangements remain in place, and parents are expected to comply with these arrangements to the best of their ability.

There has been an increase in family violence during COVID-19 and Victoria Police is available to deal directly with this through issuing family violence safety notices or intervention orders.

We also understand this is a difficult time to set aside funds to pay for legal advice. To help ANMF members, our family lawyers have prepared free general information and advice that can assist families and will provide assistance to ANMF members at reduced legal rates.

Parenting arrangements

Many people have concerns about their parenting arrangements or court orders, and what the expectations are in relation to children moving between homes.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia has recently made a public statement emphasising that the current situation is primarily a matter of health and safety. Parents are expected to act in the best interests of their children and attempt to find ‘sensible and reasonable’ solutions to their arrangements if difficulties arise.

Parents are expected to continue to comply with existing parenting arrangements to the extent it is possible and appropriate to do so. Circumstances where it may be difficult or impracticable to comply with a parenting arrangement may be due to:

  • self-isolation requirements of a parent, child or both;
  • exposure or infection to COVID-19 by a parent, child or both;
  • school closures;
  • cancellation of sporting or other extra-curricular activities;
  • travel bans (i.e. interstate or overseas). Travelling between parents’ homes who both live in Victoria is not restricted, however there are border and quarantine restrictions travelling interstate. Parents should seek advice from the relevant state or territory government about how border restrictions may impact travel.

In some of these scenarios, parents may need to consider varying their arrangements temporarily, e.g. if changeover normally happens at school, a different location may need to be agreed upon, or make-up time that is missed due to travel bans or self-isolation/quarantine may need to be considered.

A parent may have a basis for non-compliance with a parenting order if the parent or child is required to self-isolate or quarantine. However, in this case parents should obtain written medical advice, and ensure time recommences as soon practicable after the isolation/quarantine period concludes.

If you need to self-isolate or quarantine with your children, all relevant information regarding any exposure, infection or isolation requirement should be forwarded to the other parent as soon as practicable and the other parent updated of any change in circumstances relevant to the child’s health and wellbeing. A failure to comply with a parenting order where there is no legitimate basis for doing so may result in a contravention application being made to the court, which can have serious consequences if the parent is found not to have a reasonable excuse.

The Family Court remains open and is continuing to prioritise matters where parents need urgent assistance. However, if it is appropriate and safe to do so, parents are encouraged to consider alternative ways of resolving parenting issues through either a family dispute resolution provider or their lawyer.

Find more information on family dispute resolution providers.

What does the law say about family violence?

There has been a spike in the number of people experiencing family violence and requiring support from family violence lawyers as a result of COVID-19.

Victoria Police has operational responses to family violence. If you or a child is at immediate risk, Victoria Police should be contacted immediately on 000. The police can issue a family violence safety notice to prevent someone from committing family violence, and order them to leave the family home. The police will also apply for an intervention order, which will require the parties to go to court at a later date.

A person subjected to family violence can also apply for an intervention order if they do not require police assistance. Direct contact can be made with the local Magistrates’ Court to make the application and request an urgent hearing date if necessary.

Our free Family Violence Support Services Guide [PDF] includes information and contact details for relevant services if you are experiencing family violence.

At Gordon Legal, we are available to provide advice, negotiate arrangements with the other parent or their lawyer, or attend court with you regarding a family law matter or a family violence intervention order.