Tips for Managing the Shared Care of Children During the Covid-19 Lockdown Period – part 1

 

Based on our experience of working with thousands of families over many years we have put together a few tips that we hope help you better understand what options are available to resolve care and contact issues and how you might best support each other to keep our children safe and well during these challenging times

You can be confident that it is our intention to continue to support separated parents and help them to find the best parts of themselves so that together they can make the best decisions for the care and wellbeing of their children.

These are challenging times

While we each love our children enormously, we will all likely acknowledge that school holiday times can be challenging, especially during winter. Certainly, by the middle of the second week, any rules around screen time will likely become much more flexible than normal and the willingness to withdraw screen time privileges much less strict because …then what would they do?

So our hearts go out to all parents caring for children during the COVID-19 lock-down period. No schools, no childcare, no grandparents, no going out to parks and playgrounds with other children, no visits to movies or friends’ houses…

And of course, if you are separated parents, the whole situation might just feel overwhelming at times. What are you even allowed to do in this situation?

The official position

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

The key points she made (which we whole-heartedly endorse) were:

  • 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.
  • Generally, children in the same communities can continue to go between their homes, unless:
    • it is more than one hour’s drive (one way) between homes
    • 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 need to stay with one parent/caregiver for the initial 4 week period.
  • If children are moving between parents/caregivers in the same town or community:
    • children should be accompanied by an adult when moving between homes;
    • private vehicles should be used, wherever possible – public transport can be used where there are no alternatives; and
    • the overriding consideration is for parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children.
  • 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.
  • where children cannot move between homes, the Court would expect indirect contact – such as by phone or social media messaging to be generous.

So, if you co-parent and you already have a Parenting Agreement:

The goal of the lockdown is to limit human interaction and contain the spread of COVID-19, however, if you are able to share the care of your children you can continue to do so but those arrangements will require some careful thought and planning.

Please use your Parenting Agreement and especially the flexibility function. Your Agreement is likely to cover school holidays. The school holidays have been brought forward so they will fall within the four week lockdown period so apply the school holiday principles you have agreed to and adapt them in the best way for each of you and your children.

When your Parenting Agreement talks about “shared care”, think about how that can work in a situation like the COVID-19 lock down. How can you share the care of your children so that each of you stays sane, all of you stay healthy and your parenting relationships (both co-parenting and parallel parenting) work as seamlessly as possible.

Are there other people to consider in either of your children’s two homes? If for example, you live with your parents, are they vulnerable and how will having your children stay impact on their vulnerability? If you live with flatmates, what impact will having your children stay have on their already stressful lock down situation? – some may have to work from home.

If you change your Parenting Agreement so that the child/ren stay with one parent most or all of the time, what will be the impact on that arrangement on the fulltime caregiver’s life? How can you, the non-caregiving parent support them (in real and practical terms!)

If living with other people is going to prove too challenging to enable the children to stay in their normal pattern of shared care, how can the non-caregiving parent still keep in contact with them regularly? (We have some tips coming up that might help with that).

Whatever arrangements need to be made, please be as kind and considerate to each other as we have all been asked to be to strangers or neighbours. It’s a great opportunity to build up some parental goodwill and to show your children that you both love them and care for them.

If you don’t have a Parenting Agreement or you do have one but it’s no longer workable

There is no need to worry about getting help and support – the FDR Centre can and will help you. Notwithstanding the steps the government has taken to contain the spread of COVID-19, it is very much business as usual (with just a few changes) for the FDR Centre as it focusses on providing  a seamless service to help families resolve care and contact arrangements during these uncertain and challenging times – just complete the ‘Contact Us’ form on the FDR Centre’s website at https://www.fdrc.co.nz/contact-us/ and one of our experienced support staff will respond promptly.

For tips to help with self-care, finances and working co-operatively see part 2 of this series

 

These tips and comments are provided by FDR Centre Services Manager Kaye Penney and FDR Practitioners Barbara McCulloch and Darren Rawlins