Childcare Arrangements for Separated Parents during Covid-19 Alert Level 4 Lockdown

New Zealand shifted from COVID-19 Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 at 11:59pm on Monday 27 April 2020 and will remain at Alert Level 3 for at least two weeks. The Ministry of Justice has released new guidance for parenting arrangements while NZ is at Alert Level 3.

Our observations
In recent weeks, we have observed a number of common issues and concerns that have arisen for families with shared parenting arrangements during the lockdown, including:

  • Parents refusing to return children to the other parent or deliver them to contact (even where the alert level allows this);
  • Contact being refused due to concerns around the safety of a parent’s bubble;
  • Contact being refused due to health or other issues relating to the child or someone in the child’s bubble;
  • One parent in a shared care arrangement needing to send the children back to school at Alert Level 3 due to work commitments and the other parent not being agreeable to this;
  • Disputes arising around what travel is permitted, where this it out of town or inter-regional;
  • Domestic violence occurring within a parent’s bubble; and
  • Separations occurring while in lockdown, and limited options to separate the bubble.

We can assist with issues as they arise and can make Family Court applications on your behalf in urgent situations, such as family violence, separations or unjustified refusal of contact, at all Alert Levels. Please do not hesitate to contact us if this is your situation, and we will assist you with urgency and sensitivity.


General advice for parenting arrangements during Alert Level 3
At Alert Level 4, many families with children in shared care arrangements were required to suspend their contact, for example if the two households were in different regions or if the child(ren) ordinarily spend time between three or more homes.

Alert Level 3 softens some of these restrictions and means that more families can return to their ordinary contact arrangements.

In summary:

  • Children may now move between households under a shared parenting arrangement, without any restrictions on the distance of travel/travel between regions
  • Household bubbles may be extended slightly, for example to reconnect with close family (like grandparents) who live nearby, but must remain small and exclusive
  • Children are no longer limited to moving between two bubbles as part of a parenting arrangement, but it remains important that the number of bubbles is only as large as necessary and in line with the ordinary parenting arrangement
  • Only travel for contact purposes if you need to and follow the general rule of keeping travel to a minimum
  • When travelling to facilitate a shared care arrangement, take a copy of your parenting order/parenting agreement with you, to help explain your travel if stopped by Police
  • Private vehicles should be used if possible, but public transport may be used if there are no alternatives
  • Where there is a parenting order, children may travel by domestic air or inter-island ferry to/from households to have contact pursuant to the parenting order. For the most up-to-date information on travel arrangements/restrictions, visit https://www.transport.govt.nz/about/covid-19/transport-and-travel-by-alert-level/
  • If the child is unwell, they should not travel between homes until they are well again. This is also the case if someone in either home is unwell
  • Where ordinary face-to-face contact is unable to happen, parents/caregivers should be generous in allowing as much contact as possible via other means such as phone, FaceTime, Skype and other social media channels

Family Court operations during Alert Level 3
As an essential service, the Family Court continued to operate during Alert Level 4 but on a reduced capacity level with priority given to urgent matters, for example, protection orders and parenting orders where children’s immediate safety is at risk.

At Alert Level 3, the Family Court will continue to provide an essential service by undertaking all priority work, and will also start to progress other scheduled work where possible. There may be some delays in non-urgent matters as a result of reduced registry staff capacity due to the need for physical distancing. The Court is using remote participation via video conferencing where possible and will be triaging matters to ensure they are addressed according to urgency. If you are not sure whether your case is proceeding or not, you should speak to your lawyer.

What happens when we drop to Alert Level 2?
Once New Zealand drops to Alert Level 2, parenting arrangements will return to normal, although everyone will still be required to follow public health guidelines (for example, around physical distancing and ceasing contact if showing any symptoms of COVID-19).


Further information
The above information is intended as general advice only. As all circumstances are unique, if you require any specific advice for your own situation, Holland Beckett Law’s family law team remain available during all Alert Levels and are happy to assist.

For more general information, we suggest you visit https://www.justice.govt.nz/about/news-and-media/covid-19-news/guidance-for-managing-shared-custody/

For advice on your own specific circumstances please contact:
Leesa Speed
Associate
Phone: 07 9280194
Email: leesa.speed@hobec.co.nz

Katherine Dyer
Solicitor
Phone: 07 9287095
Email: katherine.dyer@hobec.co.nz

Leesa specialises in family law including relationship property, family protection claims, parenting, relocation, and care and protection of children.