Childcare Arrangements for Separated Parents during Covid-19 Alert Level 4 Lockdown
With New Zealand now at Alert Level 4 for at least four weeks, many families whose children spend time between different homes are asking how this will impact care and contact arrangements.
General advice during Alert Level 4
The Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has said, “What we are trying to do is prevent people from gathering … Yes, not every household is a single-family unit, and I think families will work out how to make arrangements to achieve what we want to achieve – that is break the chain of transmission.”
The Chief Family Court Judge has since issued the following guidance:
1. The overriding consideration is for parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children.
2. The intent of Alert Level 4 is to prevent COVID-19 spreading within NZ. Staying at home will save lives and is key to Alert Level 4.
3. 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.
4. There is no definition of “same community” however the guidelines suggest that travel between homes can occur unless there is more than one hour's drive (one way) between homes.
5. 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 (ie. 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
6. Parents and caregivers should discuss if shared care arrangements would allow COVID-19 to potentially spread without them being aware and reach an agreement. This may mean the child stays with one parent/caregiver for the initial 4-week period.
7. If children are moving:
- They 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
8. Where children cannot move between homes, the Family Court’s expectation is that there should be generous indirect contact between the child and the other home, such as by phone or social media messaging.
9. Parents should 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. This global pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to unilaterally change established care arrangements without cause or otherwise behave in a manner inconsistent with the child’s best interests or the court ordered care arrangements. Children are precious and more than ever, this is a time to focus on their wellbeing and safety. It is important that their loved ones are also safe and well, and that children know that, and are able to see their parents and caregivers lead by example.
10. Families should keep themselves up to date with Ministry of Health directions, and refer to the Ministry of Health website https://www.health.govt.nz/
Family Court operations during Alert Level 4
As an essential service, the Family Court will continue to operate but on a reduced capacity level. Priority is being given to very urgent matters, for example those concerning children’s immediate safety.
It is anticipated the Court will not be granting without notice applications for enforcement of contact arrangements where there has been a technical breach during this 4-week period as a result of parents complying with the above advice. On notice parenting order applications where the situation is not urgent may not be accepted for filing at all at this time.
For more information, and to ensure you are kept up to date as the situation develops we suggest you visit https://www.justice.govt.nz/about/news-and-media/covid-19-news/guidance-for-managing-shared-custody/
The above information is intended as general advice only. If you require any specific advice for your own situation, Holland Beckett’s family law team are happy to assist. Please contact:
Leesa Speed - Associate
Phone: 07 9280194
Katherine Dyer - Solicitor
Phone: 07 9287095