Navigating unchartered waters: co-parenting through COVID-19

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is presenting us with challenges unseen in most of our lifetimes. We are faced with changes on a daily basis as to how we conduct our lives and there is no timeframe being given for when we may return to a more normal way of life.

Children may be feeling understandably anxious about the virus and how they and their families may be affected. The Ministry of Education has put together practical advice around how we help children cope – you can read their guidelines here:

https://education.govt.nz/school/health-safety-and-wellbeing/pastoral-care-and-wellbeing/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-coronavirus/

Sharing custody during level 4 alert status

Today the Principal Family Court Judge, Jacquelyn Moran, issued a statement offering guidance to parents or caregivers who share custody.

The key points she made were:

  • the overriding consideration is for parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children; and
  • 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; or
  • 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;
    • in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for COVID-19; or
    • 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.

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; and
  • 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 children and their families, as well as 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.

Government funded FDR mediation can be used, via audio or video conference, to help parents define and work through challenges which may be relevant to their individual situations. In this time of heightened emotions and pressures, the presence of a skilled mediator to facilitate essential conversations is invaluable.

Our children will remember how we reacted to this pandemic, not the pandemic itself. Please contact us now to apply for FDR mediation if you need support having these conversations.