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The effects of Lockdown on shared care arrangements for children

By Dharsh Nanayakkara - 30 Mar 2020

It has been five days since New Zealand went into lockdown in response to the Covid19 Pandemic, and separated parents sharing care of their children have faced the unprecedented and daunting issue of who the children will reside with during lockdown.

Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield states that children may travel between their separated parents in two separate households, provided that both are in the same city and that both households strictly abide by the self-isolation and hygiene protocols required by the Ministry of Health.

This was endorsed by Principal Family Court Judge Moran, who agrees that children living between homes in shared care arrangements ''may still travel between their two homes during the lockdown period, provided that the homes are in the same city, and the safety of the children and others in their family unit should not be compromised by movement between those homes." (emphasis added)

Judge Moran went on to say that public safety was essential, particularly "if there are more than two households involved."

What this means for separated parents sharing care of their children is that their household "bubble'' can include two households. So if your usual care arrangement requires movement between households A and B, then provided they are in the same city, this arrangement can continue during lockdown until we are told otherwise by the government.

However, if household B has siblings/step siblings/half siblings or persons moving between household B and a third household C, then household A is not required to send their children to household B, as this would destroy the bubble between household A and B.

Household B would need to assure household A that there would be no further physical contact with household C during lockdown. In this way, the bubble between household A and B could remain secure.

There has also been concern around what happens when an essential care worker resides in one household, and where there are vulnerable children moving between households or vulnerable grandparents residing in one household. These issues have been dealt with on a case by case basis with the guidance of Judge Moran's comments above.

Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime, HouseParty and other video calling services and a variety of social media forums should be used in cases where physical contact between families is not possible during lockdown.

The best interests of the children has been the paramount guiding principle in matters under the Care of Children Act 2004. In our current climate of uncertainty and fear, Judge Moran adds: "Parents must 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".

Covid19 places significant stress on our economy, community, and ultimately our family unit. Ensuring that our children are able to see both parents, while keeping their community safe, is essential to our collective wellbeing.

Contact Dharsh Nanayakkara or any member of our Relationship Property Team if you or someone you know has concerns regarding shared care or parenting arrangements during this challenging time.


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