During this time, it’s not always just relationship and sex advice that I will be aiming to give. I have been blessed to have amazing followers and subscribers, so I want to do what I can to help you. That might be to do with your relationship, but it also might be to do with other aspects of your life.
One of the questions I have been contacted about a lot is in regards to blended families.
This is not an easy time for any family, but when you are dealing with possible conflict between parents and differing ideas on how to co parent and keep children safe, it can become even more complex.
If you have had high conflict with your former partner, what tips do you have for those trying to negotiate other arrangements?
It is important to remember that everyone’s emotions are heightened at this point in time, so high conflict families – if you think you couldn’t get more conflict, then batten down the hatches. We are living in unprecedented times and travelling in uncharted territory so now is the time to try, as best we can to maintain a level head. That’s not to say that you have to be emotionless robots, but it’s probably best to
(a) keep all communication in writing.
(b) when something is sent that you don’t agree with or makes you angry or frustrated, type that angry response then save it to drafts and type the calmer more considered response.
There are also apps available that moderate your written communication with your former partner and will prompt you if it thinks you can communicate better. It would also be important, if you are trying to change arrangements for medical reasons or concerns at this point in time, to have independent evidence of the need to change the arrangements. Try and adopt the three “C’s” to communications and dealings – Calm, considered and compassionate.
What happens if you feel your ex’s ill feelings are overshadowing their ability to co parent?
Just know that the time and place will come for their behaviour to be brought into check. If you are in a litigation process, evidence will ultimately be able to be given to the Court about how people behaved at this point in time and how, when faced with a choice to be reasonable, they chose irrationality and conflict. You need to be the one adopting child focus, perhaps even to the detriment of your time with your children, so that ultimately you can, before a court if needs be, say that when faced with that choice, you chose Path B instead of Path A.
Document actions and behaviours so that you have good recall when needs be. If you are being withheld from your children and you have a means of electronic communication with them (including video chats), keep that type of communication going, any form of connection is better than no connection. Sometimes I am faced with client’s who say, “that suggestion is offensive, I am not doing it” with the resultant effect of children losing a connection for a period of time with them. As hard as it can be, you need to show that focus and remember that any time and connection is better than nothing. Your children will thank you for it in the long run.
What should do you if you feel the other parent is not keeping the child/children safe during this time?
The Family Law Act and the Family Law courts have their primary focus on the best interests of the children. This includes risk assessment and risk minimisation. There is an expectation upon parents to ensure they are not exposing their children to risk. This risk doesn’t always have to be what is most commonly seen, such as drug use, family violence etc.
In this crazy time it can be ignoring government directives regarding social distancing and self isolation or quarantine if necessary. If you have to take steps to keep children safe then the Court will ultimately consider the steps you take, under their overarching requirement to consider the best interests of the children. If you have a family lawyer, talk with them before taking what may be considered dramatic steps such as retaining children or removing children, or even just to bounce off them how to communicate your concerns about the children with the other parent.
If you are unable to reach an agreement, is it ok during a pandemic to breach orders?
As a lawyer, my duty is first and foremost to the court. That means that I must at all times focus on upholding the rule of law, the rules of the Court and my professional obligations and ethical requirements. This means that as a basic principle, I cannot advice my client’s to simply breach Orders. What I can do however is explore with them the circumstances which make them think they need to breach Orders and what options are available to them. Sometimes there is no choice and if that is the case and they need to breach or contravene orders, then that is the choice they make.
The other parent may bring an urgent application before the court (and yes our courts are still functioning in this current climate, albeit in a reduced and more remote capacity, but they are still open and available to assist our vulnerable families) or file a contravention application. When a Court is considering a contravention application, which is a quasi criminal matter, they have to firstly find that there was a contravention of the Orders, secondly, was the contravention a simple or major contravention, but thereafter they consider was their a “reasonable excuse” for the contravention.
There is no definition of what “reasonable excuse” is, every case is taken on its merits and individual circumstances. The Court’s recent guidelines give us some insight into how they may consider contraventions arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is not and cannot be a hard and fast rule saying that it is OK or not OK to breach orders or agreements at this time. It would be important, as for the circumstance where you are trying to renegotiate arrangements, to have if possible some independent evidence to support the action you are taking. And again, if possible consult with a family lawyer about the situation you find yourself in.
If you have utilised school to do handovers due to high conflict or safety concerns, what should you do now with many schools being closed?
If you have safety concerns, try to utilise a public place, with CCTV available (service centers etc) and failing that, ensure that you have a third party, who is just to observe, not interact, with you. This will require some communication between you and your former partner, which again should be in writing. Most court orders are prefaced on a position of “unless otherwise agreed between the parents” meaning that you can reach agreement to do something other than what Orders say, but you are best advised to ensure that is in writing. If you are comfortable transitioning the children from your home, do that, to minimise their exposure to the general public, but if not, it would be best practice to go straight from home to changeover and then home again with limited waiting around time or other stopping in between.
With children going back and forth, there is a risk to other family members if the children are not isolated when in the care of the other parent or if this information is not shared. Is there an ideal parental arrangement that might work better under these circumstances?
It would be wonderful if there was an ideal arrangement but sadly there is not. It must be what works for your family. Hopefully, most parents can put aside their vitriol and dislike for their former partner, or their feelings of hostility towards their new partner etc to focus on their children. But I fully accept that this is not possible.
It would be beneficial if parents could communicate what arrangements they are adopting to the other parent before transitioning the children and if the other parent just flagrantly refuses to adopt a similar (not identical necessarily) regime, then careful consideration must be had about what you do. Ideally changeovers would be limited during this current environment, so time may need to be in larger blocks rather than a couple of days or perhaps a reduction in frequency for younger children’s visits. We are all about risk minimisation during this crazy time.
If one parent cannot home school the children and the other can, does this mean the children should spend time with the parent who can?
If it remains the case that children return to school next term in Learn from Home mode, as most schools are transitioning to, it is important if possible that they are supervised and monitored with their school work. Of course, some children are not legally able to be home alone (must be 12 in Queensland) so if one parent continues to work during this time, and that work takes them out of the home, then the really must ensure that the child returns to the working from home parent or the stay at home parent.
If there are concerns around this and you think children are being left home alone at too young an age or for too long a time, it may be necessary to speak with the authorities about that risk for the children. Again, whilst it may be too idealistic a notion, the courts and lawyers are hoping that parents adopt a reasonable approach with one another in what is the most challenging of circumstances most of us will live through as parents of young children. I am a working parent so I empathise with everyone out there. Take it day by day and do the best we can. And when all else fails, contact a family lawyer and ideally an accredited specialist, to get some sensible, pragmatic and practically achievable advice.
Good luck everyone and stay sanitised!