NEWSFLASH: CORONAVIRUS

Separated parents: Lockdown ban relaxed so children can move between homes

By Greg Nicolson 8 April 2020

The amendments to the State of Disaster regulations now mean children can be moved between parents if they have a court order or an existing rights agreement or parenting plan registered with a family advocate. (Photo: Noah Silliman / Unsplash)

The directive from the government was clear: Children of separated parents shall stay with the parent they were with at the beginning of the lockdown. Amendments to the regulations now allow parents to revert to their existing sharing agreements unless a caregiver is suspected of having Covid-19.

Children can now move between co-holders of parental responsibilities during the Covid-19 lockdown if parents have an existing court order or registered rights agreement or parenting plan, according to amended regulations signed by Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu on Monday.

Zulu signed the amendments after previously stating that children would have to stay with the parent they were with at the beginning of the lockdown on 27 March 2020 regardless of existing co-parenting agreements.

The department of social development was inundated with calls from parents with joint custody agreements, but Zulu maintained that to reduce movement and protect children from exposure to Covid-19, children should not be transported between parents.

The amendments to the State of Disaster regulations now mean children can be moved between parents if they have a court order or an existing rights agreement or parenting plan registered with a family advocate.

The amendment states that, under such agreements, children can move between parents “provided that, in the household to which the child is to move, there is no person who is known to have come into contact with, or is reasonably suspected to have come into contact with, a person known to have contracted, or reasonably expected to have contracted, Covid-19”.

Parents and caregivers must carry the court order or agreement or certified copies while transporting the child.

Analysing the lockdown regulations recently, Professor Pierre de Vos from the University of Cape Town pointed out that many divorced parents have custody arrangements formalised by courts requiring children to spend certain amounts of time with each parent.

“However, the regulations require parents to ignore these court orders and to commit contempt of court as children may not be taken from one parent to another during the lockdown as required by custody orders,” said De Vos.

“Put differently, the regulations purport to circumvent court orders, thus trenching on the separation of powers doctrine and interfering with the independence of the judiciary.”

Zulu’s amendments to the regulations will likely prevent court action from the many parents who have expressed concern over what would happen to their children during the lockdown. DM

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