The Coronavirus has already had a massive impact upon day-to-day life in Australia. It has also led to much uncertainty for people navigating separation and post-separation parenting arrangements and financial division.

Family violence

The most significant impact is expected to be a dramatic rise in family violence.

The laws relating to family violence vary from State to State. Victorian Police will continue to act to protect people experiencing family violence in Victoria. Further information is available here:

Your home should be the safest place to be to avoid Coronavirus. For people who are experiencing family violence, this makes it incredibly difficult to separate in a manner that doesn’t put the health and safety of themselves and any children at risk.

Importantly for people who are experiencing family violence, support services remain available. There are numerous services who provide support to people in certain locations. A good start is:-

  1. Safe Steps; and
  2. 1800 Respect

Other services include:-

Lawyers can assist people to navigate the legal aspects of family violence and separation. The support that we can provide to our clients will continue while Berry Family Law works remotely.

Parenting arrangements

Parents are concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus on the safety of their children. For separated parents, the Coronavirus is also creating practical limitations about how the children might spend time between two households. For example, while children might normally transition between their separated parents at school, this will be impractical if schools temporarily move to online learning.

As they navigate the current challenges, separated parents should continue to prioritize their children’s best interests. This doesn’t mean using the Coronavirus as an excuse to stop the children spending time with the other parent. It instead means that parents may need to adapt and use common sense to meet existing obligations under Court Orders or to facilitate time with the other parent when no agreement has been reached.

Parents should be aware that the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court has published a statement providing parents with some general guidance about the Court’s expectations of parents in light of the Coronavirus.

Below are Berry Family Law’s tips for parents during Covid-19.

Parents should seek legal advice to ensure that any new or adjusted parenting agreement is in the children’s best interests as well as being appropriately negotiated and documented.

Financial division (property settlement)

Separated couples, like all of us, will no doubt despair as they see daily reports of the deterioration of the housing and share markets as well as their superannuation balances.

People who are navigating the process of dividing their finances with their ex-partner should consider whether the time is right to do so given the present uncertainties. Obtaining expert financial advice from a financial advisor or accountant is recommended.

Where it is appropriate to negotiate or resolve financial matters, people should obtain legal advice to ensure that they do so in a manner that adapts to the current circumstances and ensures that any agreement reached is suitable and legally binding.

As the Family Law Courts adapt to the current challenges, it is expected that there will be considerable limitations on the Court’s ability to hear and determine disputes about property division. Berry Family Law is committed to assisting people to resolve their problems despite these limitations. Our lawyers can assist separated people to negotiate, mediate and reach binding agreements.

Top Ten Guide for Parents during Covid19

The pressures and stresses associated with COVID can be difficult and may provoke anxiety. These suggestions may help.

1. Stay healthy

Model best practice habits for your children to minimise the risk of spread of the virus – e.g. hand washing and social distancing. Simple routines become habit forming. Let the other parent know that you are following these habits – we all worry that others are not taking things as seriously as we should. Assurances can bring peace of mind and good will. Consistency in both homes is ideal.

2. Be present and considered

This is a serious health challenge. Children will have heard much through their schools, networks and media. Children are not necessarily able to process all of this information and can become confused and scared.

3. Meeting your obligations

If your parenting is regulated by a court order, you must still meet its obligations unless a reasonable excuse applies. If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met (e.g. quarantine, travel restrictions or as schools close) use common sense first. Contact us for any advice you need. If you anticipate a change, give the other parent notice as soon as you can.

4. Adapt

If schools are closed and changeover was there, nominate another suitable neutral location. Sporting activities or activities parents planned to do with children during school holidays or weekends are unlikely to be available. Think about if you will be required to work from home and if that is feasible when children are in your care. If time arrangements with the other parent cannot occur, find other ways – including digital communications.

5. Be open

Try to be on the same page with the other parent about your respective households actions to limit exposure to the virus and to shield the children. If a child is showing any symptoms, that information should be shared immediately with the other parent, and an agreed response implemented. Know what your own self-isolation plan will be. Share that with the other parent if necessary.

6. Be mutual

Think about how you would like the other parent to engage with you about these issues, and model that engagement. Be flexible if that is good for the children. Ask for flexibility in return.

7. Be compassionate  

Very few people can apply certainty right now. Being calm in times of high stress is hard –but you are more likely to reduce the conflict if both are making the best effort possible.

8. Be solution focussed   

Now, more than ever, the need for parents to find compromise in the interests of children, is absolutely clear. Courts and dispute resolution services may be hard to access. Common sense and respectful engagement may be the surest path. It’s an opportunity to find new ways to solve old problems. We have a solid list of counsellors who are able to help, many of whom have set up video conferencing facilities.

9. Help out to the extent you can   

People may lose jobs or income. This may impact child support. Try to be understanding. Financial worry may exist in both households. Your legacy can be that both parents cooperated to find solutions for your children.

10. Be patient and positive   

This situation will not resolve overnight. Changes will continue. Stay connected. You are the children’s beacon at this time.

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