Managing your contact schedule with your co-parent during the pandemic

Last night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that as of midnight 26 March 2020, South Africa will be experiencing a 21-day lockdown in terms of movement and social interactions until 16 April 2020. As your responsibility towards your child, you should choose to behave reasonably with your co-parent and navigate a way that best addresses your court order and is in keeping with the movement laws that must be adhered to.

If you have separated or divorced and have a contact schedule where you have to move between homes and travel distances to drop off and fetch your children, it may be time to discuss how these movements occur, or lack thereof, in the best interests of your child, while keeping your responsibilities and rights over your child intact. This calls for reasonableness, adaptability and flexibility in how you both manage contact with your child and your co-parent. The conversations must not focus on the past behaviours or negative issues that slow down getting to the best possible solutions right now.

What to consider when managing your contact schedule

  • Have an open line of communication with each other and discuss realistically how best to minimise the movement of your child between your homes.
  • Have conversations with your co-parent to find a way that you maintain contact with your child through methods that may not necessarily mean seeing each other in person during the week. You could try FaceTime apps or Skyping your child to maintain communication.
  • Discuss times with your co-parent that are suitable to contact your child, depending on their age, and set up a call schedule.
  • Allow for flexibility and creativity when making arrangements to hand over your children to each other that does not contravene the current restrictions on movement.
  • When seeing your children in person, put their health safety first and minimise their risk of infection as best as you possibly can.
  • Adapt the contact to the current restrictions and make temporary agreements for longer stays with the one parent which can be incorporated into longer stays with the other parent when there has been a change of contact. Do not view this as time taken away from you; instead, make arrangements for when this time can be made up later in the year or next holiday season.
  • Be open with your co-parent about any health issues you are experiencing or if you have been in any area or contact that may risk exposure to the virus.
  • Decide between yourselves that you will talk to your children about any illnesses or discomfort they may be feeling or if there is a need for your child to seek medical attention. If there is a need to keep your child longer at the one parent while the other has to maintain a quarantine period, it would be reasonable to expect that the health safety of your child and yourselves is of utmost concern to both of you.
  • Discuss plans regarding what should happen if one of you falls ill.

“… behave reasonably with your co-parent and navigate a way that best addresses your court order and is in keeping with the movement laws that must be adhered to.”

If you form part of the essential services required during this time, make arrangements with your co-parent to be with your child while you work, regardless of whether that time was part of the contact schedule. Discuss these arrangements with each other and come up with solutions that pose the least risk and are in the best interests of your child.

If your relationship is open and amicable, you can both agree that these changes will be temporary until the all-clear has been given for life to resume as it was before the spread of the virus and you may continue with your court-ordered terms. If you both require that the terms be amended but are not open to discussing it between yourselves, you may have your issues mediated and reviewed. Look out for online mediation services that can assist.

Your parenting plan used to be your guideline. Right now, however, you both need to create a realistic guideline on how best to manage any changes that will occur as the days go by. Always look for solutions to ease burdens on each other and to create less anxiety for all of you. You are not being asked to disobey your court order, but at the same time these are unprecedented circumstances and while the law says that you maintain a relationship with your child, common sense should be your guidance in making responsible and rational decisions during this pandemic.

This article is not legal advice. For further information on parenting plans and mediating any disputes or amendments, please go to www.fairpractice.co.za or email info@fairpractice.co.za. Online mediation appointments are available.

Veerash Srikison is an admitted advocate since 2003 (currently non practicing) and also the founder and director at Fair Practice (PTY) Ltd based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She chose to branch out into mediation. Coupled with raising awareness about the benefits of mediation with her numerous engagements in the media, she also focuses on the rights of children. Veerash is a trustee of Matla A Bana – A Voice Against Child Abuse, and works closely with the SAPS and is often invited as a speaker to events.