On 23 March 2020, the government announced that from midnight on 25 March 2020, New Zealand will raise the alert level to level 4 in relation to COVID-19. This means the country is going into lockdown for four weeks. If your children do not live with you full time, you may be concerned about how the government’s recent announcement will affect your care arrangements.
Do shared care arrangements continue during the lockdown?
Children do not have to stay with one parent during the lockdown. Children in shared care arrangements can continue to go between their parents’ households as long as the following criteria can be met:
A way to think about it is, whether it is still possible to have a “bubble” of people who are not having contact with others. It is in this case, the bubble may include more than one household. If the bubble is compromised because a member of the household cannot self-isolate, then this shared care may not be appropriate.
If shared care or the usual contact arrangements cannot go ahead, then it is important that other contact such as, FaceTime or phone calls still occur. Children may pick up on adult’s anxiety, so being able to communicate with both their parents (and other caregivers) will be important to them.
Can parents still have supervised contact with their children?
Professional contact supervision providers are not an essential service and therefore will not be operating during the lockdown. This means that professionally supervised contact will not be able to go ahead. If contact is supervised by a family member or friend, this could still be appropriate the supervisor is self-isolating in the household with the person having contact or in self-isolation in their own house alone.
What happens if parents can’t agree who has the children?
While the justice system, including courts continue to operate, there are a number of resourcing challenges at present, meaning that current and new cases will be prioritised based on urgency. The main criteria for this in family cases in likely to be personal safety and risk to that.
In theory, if you cannot agree on who will have care of the children during the lockdown, you could apply to the Family Court for a parenting order. However, in order to make an urgent (without notice) application, then you would need to show that there is a risk to a child or another person if the order is not made. Any application will need to specifically address issues arising in relation to COVID-19.
Court orders will remain enforceable during the lockdown, meaning it is possible to apply for a warrant to enforce the parenting order during the lockdown. A warrant is unlikely to be granted if it would put a child at risk or would result in the government’s guidelines not being followed.
Official advice and updates:
On 24 March 2020, the Principal Family Court Judge Moran, released a statement regarding children in shared care and COVID-19. Her statement is available to read here. It is important that parents take a sensible and pragmatic approach to parenting arrangements during the lockdown period. Clearly, the paramount consideration over this period is the safety and well-being of your children as well as ensuring government restrictions are complied with. It will likely be necessary for parents to be more flexible and open to alternative co-parenting arrangements.
Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, has been interviewed about this issue on Radio New Zealand. A link to this interview is available here.
More information about parenting arrangements during a pandemic is available here.
For more information on how COVID-19 may impact your shared care arrangements, contact Wakefields Lawyers at 0800 LEGAL1 or firstname.lastname@example.org.