How to co-parent during a pandemic

Whether you call them “stay at home rules” or “lockdowns”, one thing is apparent, health professionals and policymakers across the country have made clear that these restrictions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

By Evan Avtzis, Lawyer at Australian Family Lawyers-Kordos Lawyers, Melbourne

Co-parenting in this pandemic has brought with it a host of new challenges. Navigating the switch to working from home while also trying to ensure that children are adapting to remote learning is no easy feat (more than a few parents have expressed a newfound appreciation for their children’s teachers!).

For families that have separated or gone through a divorce, trying to co-parent during this pandemic can be a very confusing process. Juggling the obligations imparted by parenting agreements or Court Orders with those of the latest health directions can be a minefield. We’ve written this article to provide some general clarity and legal advice on co-parenting during this challenging time. So if that’s what you’re looking for, keep reading.

1. What the current restrictions mean for co-parenting arrangements

Homeschooling mother and son co-parenting during a pandemic

The current restrictions in Greater Sydney state that people must stay home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. While most people are by now fairly familiar with the five primary ‘reasonable excuses’ to leave their homes, parenting arrangements are noticeably absent from this list. This unclear information has been a source of concern for parents trying to navigate the new health directions, keep their families safe, and simultaneously fulfil their obligations under parenting arrangements.

One of the less publicised, additional reasonable excuses to leave your home is to “continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children”.

Noticeably, unlike in other Australian states, the Sydney restrictions expressly specify that this reasonable excuse applies to parents and their children. In doing so, the excuse, by extension, does not include other family members such as grandparents whom children may have a right to spend time with according to Court Orders. There is, however, a further, broader excuse in place, namely: “undertaking legal obligations”, which would likely encompass this scenario.

In essence, during the stay-at-home restrictions, parents are expected to meet any obligations placed upon them concerning parenting arrangements by Court Orders or parenting agreements unless there is a good reason not to.

2. Being flexible and remembering what is important

Complying with previously agreed parenting arrangements (that were made before anyone could have foreseen the current pandemic) is sometimes easier said than done. Whether it is due to school closures, quarantine requirements, travel restrictions, or for any other number of reasons, it may not be possible to continue to follow all provisions of a parenting arrangement.

In these circumstances, if it is safe to do so, parents should try to communicate to each other the difficulties they face in trying to adhere to the current arrangements and use common sense when trying to reach alternative arrangements for the duration of the restrictions. The Court often looks far more favourably on parties who have attempted to resolve their issues without the need of going to court unnecessarily.

Parents should try to adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in reaching solutions and remember that, as confusing as this time is for them, children are not immune to the stresses of this pandemic.

Remote learning and other restrictions have already effectively disrupted children’s regular routines and prevented them from seeing their friends. It is essential to try to maintain as much routine as possible for children, and this includes adhering to ongoing parenting arrangements (unless there is a good reason not to).

You may find our article on co-parenting apps helpful to manage communication during this time.

3. Co-parenting across state borders during a pandemic

The latest outbreak of the coronavirus in New South Wales has sparked various governments to implement travel restrictions across state and territory borders.

These restrictions can be very confusing for parents who live in border towns and have shared-parenting arrangements that require children to move from one household to another across State or Territory borders. These restrictions have left many parents wondering whether they can even comply with court orders requiring them to do so.

The rules about crossing borders between states and territories differ from place to place, and unfortunately, there is no national approach to how parents should deal with this situation. An example of this is the state border between Victoria and New South Wales. The New South Wales Government has defined who is an “NSW-Victoria border region resident”. These people are not required to complete a travel declaration when entering New South Wales.

However, on the other side of the border, the Victorian Government presently states that you do not require a permit to enter or re-enter Victoria if you are travelling across State borders due to shared custody arrangements. Quarantine requirements may apply when entering Victoria, however, if you enter a “red zone”. These exemptions and requirements are prone to change rapidly as outbreaks occur in various regions.

In these circumstances, established exemptions enable families with Court Orders in place to travel across state or territory borders. Here, you may be required to provide a copy of the appropriate Court Order to border control personnel as evidence that you satisfy the relevant exemption. Whenever crossing state or territory borders that have a restriction in place due to the pandemic, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by ensuring that you carry with you a hardcopy of the appropriate Court Order (or at least an electronic copy) and some form of current photo identification.

Related: A parent’s guide to child support

Co-parenting during a pandemic often raises many questions. If you are concerned about how stay at home rules or border restrictions may impact you and your family in implementing a shared parenting arrangement, request a callback from our friendly team via the form below.

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