With a lockdown in place for 11 local government areas in greater southeast Queensland, it is taking some time to work through the flow-on effect for specific segments of our community. This includes separated parents who share the responsibility for the care of their children.
As with previous lockdowns, complying with the order of a court or tribunal is a valid reason to leave home, under the Public Health Direction (PHD), issued by the Chief Health Officer (CHO), Prof Jeanette Young. That includes giving effect to parenting orders made by the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court.
However, the initial PHD did not provide an exemption for parents and children who do not have court-ordered or court directed parenting arrangements.
The updated Lockdown Direction now makes provision for shared parenting arrangements that are informal or that have been documented by way of a Parenting Plan made under section 63C of the Family Law Act.
A Parenting Plan is not a court order or direction. The aim of a Parenting Plan is to allow parents who can agree on parenting arrangements to formalise them in a written document. There are countless parents and children whose arrangements are governed by these types of documents. They are commonly used when parents attend family dispute resolution with Family Relationship Centres or private Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners.
Parenting Plans give parents the option of not having to go to Court to have arrangements formalised and save considerable time and legal costs. Parenting Plans are recommended where parties have separated and want to see if their agreed arrangements can work prior to having them formalised by a Court (if they want to).
Specifically, the updated Lockdown Direction now provides for:
A person mentioned in paragraph 5 must not leave their principal place of residence … except for, and only to the extent reasonably necessary to accomplish, the following permitted purposes:
m. to attend any court or tribunal of Australia or to comply with or give effect to orders of the court or tribunal of Australia;
q. to fulfil an obligation relating to shared parenting or child contact; or
r. for children under 18 years who do not live in the same household as their biological parents or siblings or one of their parents or siblings, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children and siblings…
If you are unsure of your position, you should obtain advice from a family law specialist so that you can determine whether you might need to take further action. The Family Law Courts have a special pathway for matters that are affected by COVID-19 issues and can expedite the hearing of matters to obtain court orders.
The current PHD is known as the Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 4) (Lockdown Direction) and came into effect at 1am today, 4 August 2021. Public Health Directions are made under section 362B of the Public Health Act 2005 and allow the CHO to make directions aimed at keeping the general public safe from public health emergencies.