Whether you have court orders or an informal arrangement with your ex-partner about your children, the current crisis is likely to require some flexibility by you as parents.
It is understandable that both parents and the children may have an existing routine which you would prefer not to change. Those routines were probably put in place to cater for both parents’ work/domestic arrangements and children’s attendance at school.
However, if we follow the example of the UK and schools close, alternative care arrangements may need to be made for your children. It may also be that alternative work arrangements will be made for you and your former partner. Of course, this also applies to couples who are not separated and have to make arrangements for their own children and stepchildren.
Most court orders provide that arrangements for children are as set out in the orders or “as otherwise agreed between the parties”. You and your children’s other parent will need to confer regarding the ability of each of you to look after the children during school days.
If you are both at home working then the children may simply stay at home with you or your former partner, and you will share the care of the children at the same times as usual.
Unfortunately, the reality is that not all parents will be working from home and, even those who are, may not have the ability to supervise and care for their children while they are working.
This particularly applies to very young children as well as school aged children who may be undertaking remote classroom work if schools close requiring supervision of schoolwork. One parent may be more able to care for the children than the other, and changes in living and financial arrangements may have to occur.
If you and your ex-partner find it difficult to communicate or reach agreements regarding the children, you may wish to use the services of a lawyer or a mediator to help you negotiate a temporary care agreement until schools reopen.
Most court orders include a provision for mediation to occur where disagreements arise between parents regarding the care of the children. Mediation can be organised in a very short time if needed.
Alternatively, solicitors for each party can assist to negotiate appropriate arrangements by exchange of proposals or at a meeting involving the parents and their solicitors.
Parents might also propose that grandparents or other relatives assist with the care of the children where one or both of the parents are unable to look after the children during work hours.
Self-Isolation or Quarantine
It becomes more complicated when a parent or a child becomes unwell or must submit to self-isolation following exposure to the coronavirus. Notwithstanding the usual arrangements for children, it is best to exercise caution and take steps to avoid the children being unnecessarily exposed to contagion.
For example, a parent may have holidayed interstate, leaving the children in the other parent’s care.
Despite the terms of any orders or parenting plans, it would be sensible for the children to stay in the care of the parent who is less likely to have been exposed to the virus, for the period of self-isolation required of the holidaying parent, even if that parent usually has the majority care of the children.
Arrangements for frequent phone, Skype or FaceTime calls should be put in place to ensure communication is maintained between the children and self-isolating parent.
If a child becomes unwell or must self-isolate, then that child’s carers will need to exercise social distancing and maintain high levels of hygiene. If possible, other children or adults in the household who do not need to self-isolate should be looked after by other friends or relatives who have not been exposed to the virus for the duration of the 14-day self-isolation period.
As well as changes to care at times, parents will need to discuss any change in arrangements for the financial support of children. Again, this is something that can be negotiated or mediated between the parents if they cannot agree to, for example, an adjustment of payments made by one parent to the other as child-support.
We are continuing to monitor this unfolding situation and will update you as more information becomes available.
You are welcome to contact Nichola Di Muzio if you would like any further information or assistance with arrangements for your children.