Shared care arrangements during lockdown

The government’s response to COVID-19 has caused some concern for those who have shared care or contact arrangements for their children.

We are mindful that there will be some confusion or questions regarding what parents can and can't do during the different Alert Levels.

Principal Family Court Judge Moran has offered some guidance on what needs to be considered during the next four weeks or more which can be found here.

In a nut shell, the Court is encouraging both parents and guardians to put aside their differences in order to make appropriate decisions for their children:

  • If the Court has made an order or you have an agreement, those arrangements remain in effect.  If you cannot comply with the conditions of an order or agreement because someone in the family is unwell or distance is an issue then work together to identify a solution for all of you. 
  • The purpose of the government’s alert system is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you are in a shared care arrangement and you both live in the same community, discuss how change-overs will occur to minimise the amount of contact between people.
  • If you are transporting your child and you have a Court order or an FDR agreement in place, keep a copy of that order or agreement on hand. All transport should be in line with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.
  • If you are in a shared care arrangement and you live in different communities, assess and discuss whether it is better for the child to say in one place for a period.  
  • Keep calm, be reasonable and realistically assess the risk.  We understand that this will be a difficult time for many and it is easy to get overwhelmed by what is going on at the moment.  
  • Remember, your child needs to have a positive relationship with both sides of his or her family. If you have the day to day care of your child during the lockdown period and the other parent or family cannot have contact, look at ways in which you can maintain your child’s relationship with those family members i.e. more frequent Skype or FaceTime calls.
  • Communication is key. If you have the day to day care of your child, you will need to keep your children’s families updated on their welfare and your own.  If you or your child gets sick or you believe you or your child has been in contact with someone that is sick, please inform the other guardian or children’s family.
  • If you struggle to communicate with the other party, try and keep your communication short, concise and focused on the facts.  Avoid discussing contentious issues regarding the child and the other parent or guardian.  These are exceptional times.  Remember that it is about enabling your child to maintain their relationship with both of their parents or guardians.
  • It is not one party’s decision.  All guardianship decisions about a child are to be joint decisions. If the legal guardians do not have custody of their child, they must discuss their proposals with those that do have custody of the child. Consulting and cooperating with those that are responsible for the child’s care arrangements is in the welfare and best interests of your child.
  • The Court is aware that some will choose this time to make decisions that suit their own interests rather than the interests of their children. Some people will try and circumvent a Court order using COVID-19 as an excuse. There are also those that will use these circumstances to have a ‘dig’ at the other parent in order to exacerbate conflict. We believe the Court will not look favourably on those that put their interests before their children and act contrary to their children’s welfare and best interests.

Unfortunately, there may be instances where you or your children might not be safe due to a conflict that might arise as a result of these circumstances. If you or your children’s immediate safety is at risk (you are in danger, or there is a serious risk to life), you need to call the Police.

If you have any questions regarding the above or you want to talk about your care arrangements during these times, please get in contact with the Family Team at Schnauer & Co Lawyers. While we might not be on-site, we can be contacted here.

By Aroha Fletcher