Just before the last Victorian and New South Wales school holidays started, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority grounded the Tiger Airways fleet. Whilst this was a huge inconvenience for holiday makers and travellers, there was another group of people who were significantly affected by the airline’s grounding – separated parents seeking school holiday time with their children.
Many parents who live interstate arrange for children to fly out for visits over school holidays and these arrangements are put in place months beforehand. Any delay in school holiday visit times cannot be made up, as the children do have to return back to their home state to continue with school.
So what can you do, if you are a separated parent caught up in this type of situation?
Generally, if a parent is not complying with court orders, you can bring a contravention application, to complain to the court that the other parent has breached the orders. The court has powers to order make up time. The other parent may also be issued with a fine, a bond, or a community service order. The parent may even be sentenced to jail time if the breach is flagrant. However, if there was a reasonable excuse for the breach, your contravention application may be dismissed. Unlike most matters in the Family Law Courts, if your contravention application is dismissed it is more likely that the other person will ask, and the Court may order you to pay the other party’s costs in responding to that application. A reasonable excuse depends on the circumstances, and may include things like natural disasters, or the grounding of an airline.
Years ago I was asked by a mother whether she could bring a contravention application against the father who refused to bring the children to her at Christmas time as ordered by the courts. It turns out that the mother lived on a remote farming property, and the main access road to the property had been cut off by the bush fires over that Christmas period. The father’s refusal to bring the children to her was based on the fire brigade warning motorists off the road, as the fire swept through the bush. In this example, it was far better for the parties to discuss an extra visit to make up for the missed Christmas visit, rather than going to Court and spending all the time and money to complain about the breach of the orders, when there was a reasonable excuse for the father’s breach of orders as the children’s safety would have been put at risk if the father had attempted to drive on roads which were cut off by the bush fires.
What can you do if your child was booked on a cancelled flight?
If your child was booked on a cancelled air flight, you should contact the other parent as early as possible, to see if you can come up with alternative travel arrangements.
You can apply to the airline for a refund and book another flight or you can apply for a credit for later flights and arrange a “make up visit”. Most airlines have restrictions on how many unaccompanied minors can travel per plane, and most airlines are also booked to near capacity due to the school holiday period, although other airlines may put on extra flights to cope with a sudden increase in demand. Depending on the age of the child, interstate bus or rail travel may or may not be appropriate alternatives.
When every moment counts, it can be frustrating to renegotiate time with children at the very last minute.
If you need assistance in renegotiating a holiday visit, or would like to discuss the law relating to parenting arrangements generally, you can speak to one of our experienced Family Law practitioners by calling Armstrong Legal on 02 9261 4555.