The impact of Covid-19 lockdown on family issues
The COVID-19 lockdown period may put a lot of strain on family situations. Below is information on how to deal with particular circumstances during this stressful time.
Shared Childcare Arrangements
The Ministry of Justice has issued guidelines for managing shared-care arrangements during Alert Level 4.
Parents and caregivers are advised to effect existing shared-care arrangements during Alert Level 4 where possible. The Ministry has stressed that the current global pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to unilaterally change established care arrangements without cause. However, the best interests of the child should always be a priority. Parents and caregivers should discuss whether such arrangements would contribute to the spread of COVID-19, and should reach an agreement that best suits the child’s needs in conjunction with Ministry of Health guidelines.
Children can move between two households unless:
- The households are more than an hour’s drive from each other.
- The households are not in the same or adjacent health districts.
- The child or anyone in either household is unwell.
- Someone involved in the care arrangement has been overseas in the last 14 days or is being tested or confirmed to have COVID 19.
- Another person in either household is moving between that household and another.
If the above circumstances mean it is not viable for a child to move between households, the child may stay with one parent/caregiver during the lockdown period.
When moving between households:
- Children should be accompanied by an adult.
- Private vehicles should be used for transport where possible, unless there are no alternatives.
Where a shared-care arrangement cannot be effected in the normal way, the Ministry of Justice has recommended being generous with other means of communication between caregivers and children, such as phone or social media contact. Parents are encouraged to set aside their differences and find a solution that doesn’t involve going to court or putting their family at risk.
What if we can’t agree on how to manage care arrangements?
The Family Court will accept urgent applications for the issue or amendment of a Parenting Order if the matter is genuinely urgent.
The Family Court is open for urgent applications only, during the lockdown period. Urgent applications include:
- Those with statutory timeframes such as applications for Compulsory Treatment Orders, IDCCR, Protection Orders or interim custody/care and Protection Orders.
- Those involving vulnerable parties such as Welfare Guardianship or Property Orders under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act.
- Those arising out of social dysfunction and family harm.
Family violence proceedings, including without notice applications for Protection Orders and urgent variations to Parenting Orders, will be a priority for the courts.
Some scheduled mediations are set to go ahead remotely. We recommend contacting your mediator about this, to find out whether this might be the case for you.
The police have reported an unfortunate increase in family violence during this period. If you or a family member have been subject to family violence (including physical, sexual or psychological violence), you may be able to apply to the Family Court for a Protection Order. The Family Court will treat these applications as urgent, and orders are often made the same day that an application is lodged. A Protection Order may also involve an Occupation Order, Parenting Order, and Police Safety Order.
If you are in immediate danger, you should call the police on 111.
If you have been served with a Temporary Protection Order against you, you have the option to defend it if you do not agree with its contents, and you do not agree to it being made Final. Timeframes for this are strict, so we recommend taking early legal advice to discuss your options.
Our Family Law team are fully up and running, and are happy to assist you if you need us in any way. We can discuss with you, your options; and provide you with the latest information as to how to execute Agreements or court documents, or access the Court if needed. We are more than happy to meet face to face with you via video conferencing, and if you need us outside usual office hours, we will do our very best to fit in with you.
The above information is of a general nature only. The information in this article does in no way constitute legal advice and all readers should contact a law firm for advice relating to your specific circumstances.
About Henny Fairgray
Henny is a Senior Associate in our Litigation Team and specialises in family law and relationship property matters.