New Zealand entering into level 4 caused some concern for parents that share the care of their children. Understandably children are precious and are to be protected. As Family Law Specialists, our inboxes have been full with parents threatening that children would be kept in the one home for the entire 4 week period and not handed over for any usual contact with the other parent. We are urging parents not to use the current situation as a self-serving tool and to put their children first. Look at your situation, and if any actual risk is posed to your child/children by moving between the homes.

Thankfully we have had the Principal Family Court Judge address this issue in a very timely manner and provide clarification. In essence you should carry on the usual shared care regime if you can and if it is safe. This will of course vary in all circumstances and if you are unsure please contact our Relationships Team for further advice. Although our physical offices are closed we are all working remotely and here to continue to provide advice.

If you are currently sharing the care of your child/children the following should be considered:

  • The overriding consideration is for parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children.
  • 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.
  • Where there is a shared care arrangement and the families are in different towns or communities, the safety of the children and others in their family units should not be compromised by movement between those homes, particularly if there are more than two homes involved.
  • Generally, children in the same communities can continue to go between their homes, unless:
    • The child is unwell. In this case the child should not travel between homes until they are well.
    • Someone in either home is unwell.
    • Someone involved (i.e. 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.
  • Parents and caregivers should discuss if shared custody arrangements would allow COVID-19 to potentially spread without them being aware and reach an agreement. This may mean the child may stay with one parent/caregiver for the initial 4 week period. Communication is key here and again we are here to assist if issues arise with positive communication and interaction.
  • If children are moving:
    • Children should be accompanied by an adult when moving between homes.
    • Private vehicles should be used, where possible. Public transport can be used where there are no alternatives.
  • Where children cannot move between homes, the Court would expect indirect contact - such as by phone or social media messaging - to be generous.

Parents must put aside their conflict at this time and make decisions that are in the best interests of the child, their families and the wider community. This global pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to unilaterally change established care arrangements without cause or to otherwise behave in a manner inconsistent with the child's best interests or the court ordered care arrangements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.