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Is COVID a reasonable excuse to stop time between a child and the other parent?

When the impact of COVID first hit, lots of parents with existing Family Court Orders (including interim Orders) were left wondering how the Orders could be implemented during these unusual times.

One recent case – Pandell & Walburg – showed how the Chief Justice of the Family Court determined whether a parent had acted reasonably in stopping time between the child and the other parent from occurring.

In this case the father filed an urgent application after the mother stopped the time on 22 March 2020. The mother claimed that she had a reasonable excuse as the child had a health condition that made him more likely to be affected by COVID – and hence he was at risk in needing to come into contact with additional people including his father.  The mother had a medical certificate recommending that the child self-isolate with his primary carer (his mother).

On 5 June 2020 an updated medical report was received by the parties which differed from the earlier medical certificate – and provided that the child was not considered high risk for severe reaction to COVID.

On 29 June 2020 the mother said she was prepared for time between the father and the child to resume.

Chief Justice Alstergren found that the mother had a reasonable excuse for contravening the existing Orders between 22 March 2020 to 5 June 2020; but that she did not have a reasonable excuse to withhold the child from the father following 5 June 2020. His Honour ordered makeup time and a small increase in time pending further Orders.

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