As we continue to live under the shadow of COVID-19, Melbourne faces Stage 4 restrictions now until at least mid-September and the remainder of Victoria is in Stage 3 lockdown.
Who knows the fate of other states and territories, as community transmission seems to be increasing.
Melbourne Stage 4 restrictions have a number of direct effects on parenting orders and the operation of the Family Court. Here is a rundown of the most important things you need to know from a family law perspective.
Under Stage 4 restrictions, you are only allowed to travel within a 5km radius of your house and you must not leave your house between 8 pm and 5 am.
However, there are family law exemptions to these restrictions, including for parenting arrangements (which falls under caregiving) and if you are subject to family violence.
The clear government directive under Stage 4 is that you are permitted to be away from home even during curfew times if you are leaving a situation of family violence. It is incredibly important that you and/or your children are safe.
There is a very helpful page here containing guidelines and resources if you are in a situation of domestic violence at this time.
One of the permitted reasons to leave home during Stage 4 is on care or compassionate grounds, which specifically includes changing caregivers for your children under shared care arrangements.
If you have shared parenting obligations and need to transport children between homes under an informal or court-ordered arrangement, this is permitted under the exemptions.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court has also made it clear that parenting arrangements continue as long as it is safe for the child and that common sense must prevail. That means, sometimes, you may have to temporarily vary the previous COVID parenting arrangements to work best for your family.
You are permitted to leave the house to take children from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home, even if it is outside your 5km radius.
Contact can still occur between Melbourne and regional Victoria despite the different levels of restrictions.
Interstate travel between parents is still permitted but the practical arrangements are proving difficult. If you are in this situation, permits are required so you must allow yourself enough time to apply online in advance.
Supervised contact centres are generally closed. Some private supervisors are finding ways to manage during Stage 4 with the creation of safe venues which are deep cleaned after the use of each family.
It appears that in general, most families are trying to make it work and are being more child-focused and cooperative under very difficult circumstances.
The Family Law Courts
You are also permitted to leave home if you need to appear in court.
The courts remain operational but are running remotely except for cases where it is deemed urgent or necessary to run face to face hearings. Hearings are running via telephone and through Microsoft teams.
The special COVID-19 list continues to run to enable urgent matters to be addressed within 72 hours when there is a genuine COVID-19 related issue impacting on your family law matter, particularly parenting issues.
If you require any clarity on whether your parenting arrangements or the impact of Stage 3 and Stage 4 restrictions, please feel free to get in touch.