Border closures and family separation
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Queensland has once again closed its borders to NSW and the ACT.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that from August 8, only residents of border communities and essential workers would be able to cross the border and exemptions, including for compassionate reasons, would be limited.
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on separated families, and border closures are an added complication.
According to the latest information from the State Government, families with shared parenting arrangements will need to provide evidence of official court orders or agreements to allow them entry into Queensland.
Earlier this year the Family Court brought in the ‘COVID-19 urgent parenting list’, dedicated exclusively to dealing with urgent parenting-related disputes that have come about in the wake of the pandemic.
There’s a specific process to follow to get onto the COVID-19 court list, including instances of family violence or if there are issues with supervised contact. If the Court accepts the matter, it will be heard within three days.
The Chief Justice has recently noted parents are still expected to facilitate contact time with children, despite the pandemic and the courts have also said they’re unwilling to entertain petty claims for contravening parenting orders.
Here are some of the issues you should keep in mind:
- Domestic violence orders are unaffected by COVID-19.
- Courts treat any breaches of parenting orders very seriously. If you plan on breaching a parenting order, for example due to health concerns for your child in another household, please speak to us first.
- There may be grounds to change child support arrangements if one parent has lost their job or are now on a reduced income.
- Any change to parenting arrangements should be documented in emails, a parenting app or letters between lawyers. Seek legal advice about the best way to document changes.
But apart from heading straight to court, what else can families do under the current circumstances to make life easier, particularly for children?
- Plan ahead for parenting time. If your child’s sporting activities have been cancelled, what else can you do together? And if one parent lives in a different state, think about how to keep the lines of communication open.
- In the wake of businesses and playgrounds closing, changeover venues may need to be reconsidered. Can changeovers now happen at your home or the other parent’s home?
- It’s an anxious and uncertain time for everyone. Try to keep calm and see things from the other parent’s perspective. Your children might be worried as well, seeing and hearing about COVID-19 through the media, or from their school. Take the time to talk with them and be present.
- Be patient. This situation is not going to resolve itself overnight and there may be long term changes to how we live, work and socialise.
The Queensland Government has said the border closure will be reviewed at the end of August, but it’s important to remember this is an ever-changing situation.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Honourable William Alstergren, has said it’s imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children and to be consistent with their responsibilities.
“In the meantime, the community should be assured that the courts will continue to perform their duties during this time of crisis,” he said.
“Judges, Registrars and staff are committed to providing access to justice when called upon to do so.”
If you have a family law issue being impacted by COVID-19, we recommend you contact us immediately to obtain legal advice to navigate this new and developing process. Contact our office on (07) 3221 4300.