Parenting and Contact Orders During COVID-19
We have received many questions from grandparents and caregivers concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 Lockdown (“the Lockdown”) on contact/access orders and agreements, and the management of these arrangements during this period.
Some grandparents have expressed concerns for their own health and safety as well as for their grandchildren. Some have faced pressure from non-custodial parents to comply with agreements or court-ordered supervised or unsupervised contact with their children during the Alert Level 4 lockdown period.
When the Alert Level 3 comes into effect on 28 April 2020, the same guidance below applies, except that the ability to expand your bubble is made more possible with travel within a region. Our caution below about extending your bubble/including non-custodial parents in your bubble still applies.
The overriding consideration at this time is that decisions need to be made that are in the best interest of the children. (Please see our Caution below).
The New Zealand Family Court Judge has provided advice on this issue which is set out below. Before reading the advice, we are advising grandparent and whanau caregivers to consider the following caution to help them make decisions.
The majority of our grandparent and whanau caregivers are aged over 50 years.
Many also have underlying health conditions including lung conditions and age-related conditions.
Some of our families are also caring for children and young people who have special needs, rare and/or chronic conditions that impact their immunity. They are in the high-risk group of our society of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19.
When making “in the best interests" decisions about the tamariki and rangatahi in your care, you also need to consider the important role that you play in their lives as their caregivers, providing for their day to day care and essential needs and what would be the consequences for the children if you were not there to provide for their care?
Consider the fact that New Zealand is in lockdown to stop the spread of the virus and stamp it out so that we can return to our daily lives without the restrictions of a lockdown. We are all in this together and we all have an important part to play in ensuring the success of this effort.
The Government has declared that the risk of community transmission and the risk to people in the high risk groups in our community is too high to allow us to move outside our “bubbles” and to have close contact with others in the community.
The Government’s and the Principal Family Court Judge’s advice, is that if you have a shared bubble arrangement between two households (at most) that live no more than one-hour drive apart, the contact can continue.
But trust is very important when making decisions about whether to arrange close contact through supervised or unsupervised contact between a child in your care and their non-custodial parent or guardian.
You need to be satisfied that the non-custodial parent or guardian will maintain their self-isolation bubble and share it only with you, and that they will not expose you and your family to risk.
If you are not satisfied, do not share your bubble. Instead take reasonable steps to maintain indirect contact by phone or the use of other technology. e.g. Facetime, WhatsApp video calls and Zoom.
If you would like to talk to one of our advocates for help with your circumstances, please contact us on 0800 GRANDS (0800 472 637) or 09 4183753 or email us or make contact through our Contact Us page.
“The best thing everyone can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. This includes parents with shared custody arrangements, and their children. The Principal Family Court Judge has released guidance for parents with shared custody arrangements.
Generally, children whose parents live within an hour’s drive of each other can continue to go between 2 homes if you have a shared bubble arrangement. Your shared bubble can include 2 households at most. An arrangement with more than 2 households would risk spreading COVID-19. Simple precautions should be taken to protect the health of parents and children. This includes parents from different households keeping a distance of more than 2 metres.
If parents are more than an hour’s drive away, then the children should stay in one home. Children should also stay in one home if they're feeling unwell, or if someone in their home is unwell or has been overseas in the last 14 days. This will protect the health of parents, caregivers and children."
The Ministry of Justice website also contains the following important advice about continued contact/shared care during the lockdown:
"Travel between homes needs to be consistent with Ministry of Health guidance.
Children can continue to move between two homes, unless:
We recommend that you read the information on the official Government websites on this issue and consider the recommendations in the context of our Caution above when making decisions for you and your whanau.
If there is a dispute between you and the non-custodial parent who is seeking contact with the child(ren) in your care or they have Court-ordered contact/access, the Family Court would look to see whether you have made reasonable decisions that are in the best interests of the children and whether you have taken all reasonable steps to arrange alternative indirect methods to ensure some contact during the lockdown.