“My name is Wendy. My husband and I are divorced, and we have a shared residency regime with our minor child. President Ramaphosa announced the country wide lockdown from the 26th of March 2020 until the 16th of April 2020. How do we continue to share contact with our child during this time? What does this lockdown mean for the arrangement we have in place? Should we rather just stay put in our homes and have the one parent exercise physical contact after the lockdown? What if the lockdown surpasses the 16th of April 2020? There is so much to think about and consider, please help!”
DISCLAIMER – THE REGULATIONS REGARDING MINOR CHILDREN WERE MADE PUBLIC ON 26 MARCH 2020, SUBSEQUENT TO THE PUBLICATION OF THIS ARTICLE. THE POSITION IS NOW CLEAR, AND IT IS THAT CHILDREN SHOULD NOT TRAVEL AT ALL DURING THE LOCKDOWN UNLESS IT IS AN EMERGENCY. THE PRINCIPLES SET OUT BELOW BY MS LOCH OF OUR OFFICES STILL PROVIDES SOME VALUABLE INSIGHT INTO WAYS PARENTS CAN THINK OUT OF THE BOX WHEN IT COMES TO CONTACT DURING THIS DIFFICULT TIME.
There are many conflicting views when it comes to answering the above questions, and there are no set directives from government to answer these pressing questions.
For this reason, it is important to point out that this article does NOT under any circumstances serve to set a precedent in terms of the law, however, it merely serves to provide non-legal advice and guidance on how to possibly approach these next few days with your child(ren) and the other parent.
Parents should be encouraged during this time to think out of the box when it comes to how contact can be exercised with their children, whilst bearing in mind the reason for this lockdown and adhering to safety measures that have already been announced.
Parents are further encouraged to remain sensible during this lockdown and to place the well-being and interests of their children above the egos which may come into play.
For the parents who find themselves in amicable circumstances with one another, they should agree to rather suspend such visits during the lockdown and have one parent (the primary caregiver) keep the child(ren) during this time and have the other parent exercise contact via WhatsApp, Skype, Messages and video calls. This will ensure your child is kept in a safe environment and does not come into contact with the public, whilst also giving the other parent a chance to have contact.
While many parents are amicable with one another and can come to the above agreement, there are parents that cannot have this discussion or agree to something of this nature at all.
For parents in such circumstances, they are encouraged to take their children to a public place (ie: a petrol station or shopping centre parking lot) to exchange the child with the other parent. Parents need to ensure they are, as well as their children are well protected with gloves, masks and sanitizers.
Have your child sit in the back seat with the necessary gear on whilst your drive the vehicle. Ensure the exchange is done quickly and limiting contact. If driving to do such exchange, perhaps drive with your court order or Parenting Plan (should same exist) in the event that you are stopped by law enforcement officials.
However, please remember once again that this lockdown is not the time to be selfish and insist on exercising contact. The best interests of your children are of paramount importance and you need to ensure they are kept safe.
In fact, it surely is not in the best interests of any child to be moved from one environment to another with the potential risk of contracting the virus. Work together as parents and do what you need to, to keep your child safe and exercising contact with both parents fairly.
For parents who have to exercise supervised contact, it appears to be clear however not confirmed, that such contact will not be able to take place as Social Workers and other relevant officials will also be on lockdown during this period.
At this point, the entire legal position remains unclear, however should a directive be issued from government in this regard, an article setting out same will be published by our firm.