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Guidelines for shared care

Parents sharing the care of children must put aside conflict during this isolation period and make decisions in the best interests of their children, Principal Family Court Judge Jacquelyn Moran says.

In a media statement, Judge Moran issued guidelines for families with shared care of children arrangements.

“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,” Judge Moran said.

The intent of alert level 4 is to prevent Covid-19 spreading within New Zealand. Staying at home will save lives and is key to alert level 4.

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 who normally go back and forth between households due to court ordered or private parenting arrangements can continue doing so during the level four alert phase.

They should not do so if —

■ The child is unwell (in which case, they should not go between homes until they are well).

■ Someone in either home is unwell.

■ 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 or has been in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for Covid-19 OR has been 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 four-week period.

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.

Where children cannot move between homes, the court would expect indirect contact — such as by phone or social media messaging — to be generous, Judge Moran said.

Judge Moran emphasises that children are precious and that, more than ever, this is a time to focus on their wellbeing and, in particular, their safety.

It is important that their loved ones are also safe and well, and that children know that and are able to see their parents and caregivers lead by example.

The Family Court will continue to operate through all pandemic alert levels but on a reduced capacity, dealing with priority proceedings

For up-to-date information, families are referred to the Unite against Covid-19 website covid19.govt.nz