Border wars fuel custody battles


Exclusive: Bitter custody battles are clogging the courts as pandemic border closures and lockdowns stop warring parents from seeing their children.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have fast-tracked 283 urgent parenting disputes linked to COVID-19 restrictions since April.

One father dragged his ex-wife to court after she refused to fly their three-year-old son from her home in Adelaide for monthly custody visits with him in Brisbane at the height of the pandemic in March and April.

The mother asked the father to fly to Adelaide to visit the little boy instead, as she feared the child might catch COVID-19 on a plane.

But the father refused, and dobbed her in to the Family Court for breaching custody orders.

Deputy Chief Justice Robert McClelland ruled that the 26-year-old mother had a "reasonable excuse'', in the only published judgment from an express COVID-19 hearing.

"I find that the risk (of the boy travelling) is one that is unacceptable,'' he stated in his May ruling.

The courts have rejected 50 applications to jump the long queue for a custody hearing, referring them to a registrar for a later court hearing.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright says COVID-19 disputes are adding to the “crushing workload’’ of family law judges. Picture: Sean Davey
Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright says COVID-19 disputes are adding to the “crushing workload’’ of family law judges. Picture: Sean Davey

Women's Legal Services Australia has warned that some fathers are using COVID-19 restrictions as "tool to increase the level of control and coercion over the mother''.

"During COVID-19 we have seen parties use the cover of COVID to unilaterally change or stop children spending time, for example, with their mother, by keeping the children beyond what has been agreed,'' principal solicitor of Women's Legal Service NSW, Philippa Davis, said yesterday.

But one frustrated father has revealed that COVID-19 border closures are forcing him to breach custody orders.

The man has detoured through Darwin to avoid the NSW-Queensland border lockdown, which makes it near impossible to visit his 12-year-old daughter once a month.

The girl lives with her mother in the NSW town of Inverell, and the Brisbane-based father has a custody order to spend time with her one weekend every month, and on school holidays.

The man usually drives to Inverell - but now Queensland Health has ordered him to fly to and from Sydney, and then quarantine in a Brisbane hotel for two weeks every time he returns from a custody visit.



The man, who cannot be named due to Family Court rules, said he could not afford to pay $2800 and be locked up for two weeks every month.

After his latest visit to Inverell this month, the father decided to detour to Darwin, where he can work remotely for two weeks "and have my freedom'' without being locked in hotel quarantine.

He plans to return home to Brisbane on Friday, but missed visiting his daughter as scheduled last weekend.

"It's ridiculous,'' the man told News Corp.

"I've got court ordered time with her but I didn't go, so really I'm in contravention of court orders and I'm breaking the law in the eyes of the court.

"I've got some time with her in the second week of the school holidays and I'm hoping my ex-wife will agree to taking my daughter to Ballina or Byron Bay - that's the only solution.''

Queensland will extend its "border bubble'' to the far north coast of NSW, but not to Inverell, from October 1.

The man appealed to Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles, who emailed that "as you have been in a COVID-19 hotspot you would need to complete 14 days mandatory quarantine at your expense.''

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright yesterday said COVID-19 disputes were adding to the "crushing workload'' of family law judges, and demanded more government funding.

"Many cases are left to languish for months, and sometimes years, without a final hearing,'' she said.

Originally published as Border wars fuel custody battles