How Will The COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Affect Long-Distance Parenting Arrangements?

by CLW Family Lawyers | Last Updated: Apr 24, 2020 | Parenting & Child Custody

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused issues in compliance with parenting arrangements. At this stage, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has made it clear that the pandemic is not sufficient reason to breach parenting orders and that all efforts should be made to comply with the current arrangements. This may be difficult however, for separated families where parents live interstate or impossible for parents who reside overseas.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has announced a travel ban for all countries and advised that Australians refrain from travelling overseas for the time being. In addition to this, a number of states have ordered mandatory 14 days isolation for anyone entering the state.

International Travel

If you or your partner reside overseas, it is important to consider the following factors:

  1. Is each parent aware of the current travel restrictions to Australia and the country the children would intend to travel to?
  2. Is there are quarantine period imposed in the destination country?
  3. Are both parents aware of the children’s vaccination and travel history? Do both parents have access to enough medication/prescriptions for the children, particularly if their travel period is extended as a result of COVID-19?
  4. If upcoming travel is postponed and unable to proceed, what mechanism is in place for the overseas parent to see the children at an alternate time in the future? The overseas parent ought still ‘see’ the children via Facetime or Skype in the interim? Propose arrangements.

Due to the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic imposes on international travel, it is important that both parties are flexible and offer flexibility in the current parenting arrangements. It may be the case that the overseas parent will not see their children until the pandemic subsides. The most important thing to remember is that any parenting arrangements are made with the children’s best interests in mind. “Make up” time is a concept well known to the Court, it should be explored now, not after COVID-19.

Interstate Travel

Exemptions for children moving between parents have been granted to permit people to enter the states and territories without the need to self-isolate for 14 days. However, these exemptions vary between each state and territory.

South Australia – Travellers of a relative or caregiver of a dependant person will be exempt. It is therefore possible that children and parents of children under the age of 18 will not be permitted to self-isolate when entering South Australia.

Western Australia – The WA Government has released a statement that exemptions will be granted on “compassionate grounds”. It is not yet clear whether this extends to changeover of children under the age of 18. If you have a concern about the WA travel restrictions, we encourage you to contact one of our family lawyers.

Queensland – Exemptions are granted for those persons complying with court orders and on “compassionate grounds”. This means that if you have parenting orders in place, you will not be permitted to self-isolate for 14 days. If you have not yet obtained court orders, you may still be exempt under ‘compassionate grounds’ however, as with the case of WA, we encourage you to contact one of our family lawyers.

Tasmania and Northern Territory – only essential services are exempt from the 14-day self-isolation requirement for both these states and territories. Parents will therefore have to be flexible and propose alternative parenting proposals, particularly if the children intend to spend time with a parent in either of these states/territories for a period of less than 14 days.

At this stage, there have been no border closures in place for New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory or Victoria.

Whilst we are in unprecedented times, it is difficult to predict how a Court may react to a breach of parenting orders as a result of COVID-19. It is therefore very important that you consult your family lawyer for advice before taking steps to alter any current parenting arrangements and if at all possible, don’t do so unilaterally.

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