Care of children during the COVID-19 lockdown

With New Zealand currently at Alert Level 4 – Eliminate, New Zealanders are on lockdown for at least the next four weeks. This will raise new and urgent questions for those of you who share care of your children with another parent.

Many issues will need to be dealt with as they arise, but the Courts have issued some preliminary guidance for parents and guardians.

Shared care of children

Those of you with shared care arrangements may be wondering if these can continue throughout the lockdown period. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s concept that need to establish their “bubble” – meaning a very small group of people who only interact with each other.

Shared care arrangements can still continue provided the child stays within the same community. “Community” has not been defined yet, but is likely to mean the same town or general area.  The child should also stay in the same “bubble” – meaning the bubble would consist of each household and the child, and nobody else.

If there is a larger distance between parents and guardians, shared care arrangements should stop for the lockdown period.  It is hard to say what exactly would be the cut off point, but presumably if the trip takes more than an hour then that would be too far.    The child should also not move if the child is unwell or someone in their home is unwell. Children moving between homes should be accompanied by an adult, and should travel in a private vehicle (though public transport can be used if there is no other option).

Additional complications may arise if there are different custody arrangements for each child in the family. Again, these issues need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Remember that firstly it’s in the best interests of children to continue to see both of their parents and secondly, continuing with a care/contact arrangement gives the children a break and also importantly their parents!

The Court expects that if the child cannot move between homes, indirect contact (like Facetime, phone calls or social media messaging) should be generous. 

Supervised access

If you have supervised access to your child, this may need to be put on hold until the lockdown is lifted – particularly if you see your child at a contact centre or with a Court appointed supervisor. If the appointed supervisor is somebody within your “bubble”, the situation may be different. This should be discussed with the other parent or guardian, and if you cannot see your child you should discuss options for indirect contact instead.

Applications to the Family Court

The Courts are an essential service and therefore will not close completely. However, access to the Courts will be limited and certain proceedings will be given priority. These include:

  • Urgent (without notice) applications;
  • Care of children applications where family violence is involved; and
  • Protection orders.

 

The current lockdown is likely to be a difficult time for many families. The Court has emphasized that conflicts between parents and guardians need to be set aside in order to consider the best interests of their children.

If you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Clinton Light

Associate

021 1244 574 

cl@younghunter.co.nz

Sarah Tzoumis

Solicitor

03 379 3880

sjt@younghunter.co.nz