The breakdown of a relationship, whether a marriage or a de facto, is distressing enough for the adults involved - it can be an awful time for the children. They see the family, the foundation of their lives, falling apart. Children of separating families are frequently unsure of the future; which parent will they live with, will they have to move house, change schools, move away from their friends, be separated from their siblings?

The needs of your children come first

In the turmoil of a relationship breakdown, the parents are often so emotionally distraught and consumed in fighting, verbally and sometimes physically, with their partner that the children take second place in their priorities, when in fact they should be the couples’ first concern. The literature on relationship breakdowns makes it abundantly clear that, if children are not considered, counselled by their parents, reassured and loved during these times, they can be emotionally scarred for life.

Another matter that needs to be considered, one that Family Lawyers and Psychologists see every day, is the use of children by parents in their warring with each other. A parent who saw and happily interacted with their children every day is now regarded by the other parent as an unfit father or mother, who should spend limited or no time with the child. This happen all too often, and the parent seeking to stop the child from seeing the other parent does not realise the harm they are doing to that child and their relationship with their father or mother.

Shared care during COVID-19

These issues are particularly significant in the context of the restrictions on movement within the community caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is all too often the case that the parent who has primary care of a child will tell the other parent they are not going to see the child because of a lockdown, or because that primary parent has concerns, real or otherwise, about the child getting infected while they are with the other parent.

Let’s unpack those two issues:

Sharing care during lockdown

First, the Chief Judge of the Family Court, during the long lockdown in Victoria in 2020, made it very clear that parents are expected to comply with Court Orders, unless there is a risk to the wellbeing of the child. In other words, if the Orders say that Johnny is to spend every second weekend with Dad, then Mum has to make Johnny available. That also applies to school holidays, the child’s and the parents’ birthdays. 

The only exceptions are when there is genuine concern for the welfare of the child - for example, if Dad or a member of his household has tested positive for the virus. In that case, contact should continue through regular Zoom or telephone calls.

Sharing care with the unvaccinated 

Secondly, the fact that a primary parent expresses concern because the other parent, or members of their household, have not been vaccinated against the virus is not a sufficient reason to stop the child spending time with that parent. There really has to be a genuine reason for withholding the child. 

During the current pandemic there have unfortunately been cases where a parent has refused the other parent time with a child, using the vaccination status as an excuse, when the real reason is that parent’s ongoing dislike, even hatred of the other parent. Not a good way to bring up a child.

In conclusion, remember that a child is the product of both parents, biologically and emotionally. The evidence from psychologists and psychiatrists is that the child cooperatively brought up by both separated parents, who respect each other and share their love of that child, will likely grow into a well-balanced adult, ready to take their place in the world. Sadly, the parents who argue and fight their way through a child’s development will often produce an adult like themselves.

If you would like further information or help navigating separation, please do not hesitate to contact Tonkin Legal Group on (03) 9435 9044 to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced Family Lawyers.