The situation around COVID-19 has been fast evolving. The 4 category alert system was just announced over the weekend and New Zealand has entered a full lock down.

The intent of Alert Level 4 is to prevent COVID-19 spreading within New Zealand. Staying at home will save lives and is key to Alert Level 4.

These are unprecedented times and many have had questions about what this means for their existing shared care arrangements.

Can I still see my child if they live in the same town of city?

If you are living in the same community as your children, the children can move between homes. Contact should be encouraged as long as it does not compromise the health of their families and the wider community.

But your children should not move between homes if:

  • the child is unwell. The child should not travel between homes until they are well.
  • someone in either home is unwell.
  • Anyone involved (the child or people in the home they have been in or will go to) has been overseas in the last 14 days, OR has been in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for Covid-19 OR has been in close contact with someone who has the virus or is being tested.

Are there conditions to moving between homes?

Yes, if children are moving between homes, they should be accompanied by an adult.

How can we move the children between homes?

Parents should use their private vehicles. Public transport can be used, but only where there are no other alternatives.

We all live in the same town but I’m not keen on our current shared care arrangement. Can I change it now?

The government and the courts have made clear that this pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to unilaterally change established care arrangements without cause or behave in a manner inconsistent with the child’s best interests or the court ordered care arrangements.

Parents need to put aside their conflict at this time and make decisions that are in the best interests of the child and their families and the wider community.

If direct contact can be facilitated safely, without exposing the children or the wider community to risk, parents should stick to their existing care arrangements.

What if we don’t live in the same town?

Parents who share custody, but live in different towns or cities, should not move between homes. The same applies for the school holidays, brought forward for the lockdown period.

This is a very stressful time. For sake of the mental health of the child, and both parents, it’s important that any child that cannot move between homes during the lockdown period are permitted generous use of phones and social media to keep in contact with their other parent.

What if my situation involves more than just myself and my ex-partner? My new partner also has children and we have a blended family.

Where movement between homes is permitted, the key is that children are only exposed to other people in contained bubble.

If you have a blended family where you and your partner’s children are moving between homes then the children are coming into contact with people from a range of sources.

If there are cases where day-to-day care is shared between more than two households inside the same town/city, that is a considered a ‘complex’ care arrangement. The children should stay where they are for the four week period if there are any complex care arrangements.

We have just moved into a State of Emergency for the next 7 days. What does that mean and how does that impact the guidelines that have already been put forward?

In a state of emergency, authorities will have powers that are not normally available to them, such as the possibility of military patrols. This means that there would be no tolerance for people who do not self-isolate.

This announcement is likely to have an impact on the previous guidelines. It could be that there is no movement permitted for the next 7 days and shared care arrangements could resume after 7 days if the parents and children are in the same community. We need clarification from the government as to how a 7 day State of Emergency would impact on shared care arrangements.

Concluding thoughts

The purpose of the increased measures is to restrict to movement and contain a global pandemic. That reality should remain front and centre.

Your children will be feeling uneasy as their schools are closed and regular routines are disrupted. In this time, it is important that parents put aside their conflict and put the safety and wellbeing of their children first.

This means facilitating contact as long as it is safe and does not put the child or the wider community at risk. Where face to face contact cannot be facilitated, parents need to be generous with contact with the other parent via skype/facetime/phone so that the child feels loved and cared for by both parents through this difficult time.

For more Andrew Little’s recent comments, please see below: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/120542301/coronavirus-justice-minister-andrew-little-says-split-families-must-adhere-to-child-custody-arrangements

For Principal Court Judge, Jackie Moran’s statement, please see below:

https://www.districtcourts.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Media-Releases/24-March-2020-Children-in-shared-care.pdf