We are often asked questions about how COVID-19 and the various lockdowns in place in Victoria affect arrangements for parenting children, whether or not Court Orders have been made. Here are some of those questions, and our answers.
Q: I have Court Orders in place that provide for my former partner to spend time with the children every second weekend and for half school holidays. Do I have to comply with those Orders and hand over the children during COVID-19?
A: The answer is yes. The Orders remain in place and are an exception to four designated reasons for being allowed to leave your home. That includes travelling to and from the changeover point, whether that is a public place like a park, or a private home. The requirements for social distancing and wearing masks continue, until the children are handed over to the other parent.
Q: Do I have to hand-over the children if am concerned that the other parent, or members of their family, may be infected with COVID-19?
A: Your primary responsibility is the welfare of the children. If you have a genuine concern that someone who the children are likely to come into contact with may have been exposed to the virus, you have the right to withhold the children until the other parent/members of their family have demonstrated that they don’t have the virus, by producing a negative test result.
Q: What happens if the other parent lives more than 5 kilometres from my home?
A. That’s OK, the 5 km rule doesn’t apply to changeovers of children. But best to keep a copy of any relevant Court Order in the car with you, in case you are questioned by the police. And, of course, you can’t breach state border closures if the parent lives interstate.
Q: What if the child is an infant and too young to go to the other parent’s home?
A: If you are agreeable, the other parent can come to your home to spend time with the child. That is covered by the regulation that allows a person from another household to come to your house for caring purposes.
Q: If my partner has been violent towards me, or has threatened violence, can I leave my home and travel outside 5k from home?
A: Yes, you can leave and stay somewhere else (even it is more than 5k away from your home). You can also go to a police station to report the offence and go to the local Magistrates Court to request an Intervention Order. We can also help you put together a plan to deal with family violence.
Q: If a partner has lost their job during the pandemic, do they still have to pay the same amount of child support?
A: The Child Support Agency does not automatically change the Child Support Assessment if the paying parent loses their job, or their income is reduced. That parent would have to apply to the Agency to change the Assessment, and provide proof of a change in their income. As the payment of child support is tied to the paying parent’s income, the money payable would be reduced, if the paying parent lost their job or suffered a significant reduction in their income. Estimates of child support payable can be calculated using the Estimator on the Child Support Agency website.
Q: Do you have any general advice about co-parenting with the former partner during the pandemic?
A: Yes, and this is the Courts’ advice as much as ours. Whatever your feelings towards the other party, don’t let those cloud your judgement and restrict or stop your child spending time with the other parent by using the virus as an excuse. Research has consistently shown that the child who is brought up by separated but cooperating parents has a much better start in life than the child of uncooperative and arguing parents.
Of course, keep your child safe and, if face to face contact is not possible for a period of time, make sure that the child is able to communicate with their other parent as regularly as possible – by Zoom, FaceTime or other video platforms, social media or the good old telephone.