Shared Care During COVID-19 Lockdown

Sharing the care of your children when separated can be challenging in the best of times. Some parents will have informal care arrangements while others may have a Parenting Order which determines the care and contact arrangements. Whatever the arrangement you have in place, it requires good communication and a degree of trust between parents. Children need to move between different households which may include living with other adults and children.

During COVID-19 Alert Level 4 this has raised several questions as to how the care arrangement works. Can contact continue and if so how? If not, can contact continue in another way? What happens if contact is supervised?

Parents need to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children and other family members. Can the family retain their own bubble and prevent the spread of coronavirus? If a parent retains their bubble with the children, and the other parent does the same, contact can continue, if they live in the same town or community.

However, not all families live in the same town or community. If this is the case, children should not move between both parents. To do so would compromise the safety of the children and others in the family unit, particularly if there are more than two homes involved.

Travel between homes needs to be consistent with Ministry of Health guidelines. Generally, children in the same towns can continue to go between their homes, unless there is a risk of contracting the virus including if:

  • The child, or a person in the home they are going to or home they have been in, has been overseas in the past 14 days or has been in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for COVID-19,has been in close contact with someone who has the virus or is being tested.
  • If the child is unwell there should be no travel between homes.
  • Someone in either home is unwell.

If children are moving between parents’ homes, they should be accompanied by an adult. Private vehicles should be used, where possible. Public transport can be used where there is no alternative.

Where children cannot move between parents’ homes, the Family Court expects indirect contact by phone or messaging and for it to be regular and where possible daily.

Where contact is supervised through an approved court provider and has ceased during COVID-19 lockdown, contact needs to take place by phone or messaging.

Parents are urged to consider the reasoning behind COVID-19 Alert Level 4. These are truly exceptional times and the reason for the extreme restrictions is to try and preserve lives. However, the current situation should not be used as a reason to stop contact with children if it can proceed safely within the same community. Any self-help attempts are likely to be looked on adversely by the Family Court in future proceedings.

If you are unsure what to do during these challenging times, or if one parent is insisting on physical contact outside the Ministry of Health guidelines, please seek advice with your family lawyer.

Bramwell Bate offers professional expert family advice through Michelle de Jong. Do not hesitate to contact Michelle to discuss your situation.