Custody and visitation allowances in lockdown: 'We just don't know'

Since President Ramaphosa's announcement of a lockdown last night, Parent24 has been inundated with questions from concerned parents who are wondering what will happen to their kids over the next 3 weeks.

A few of the typical questions include:

"We are in a co-parenting relationship and our children reside between our residences, are we able to drive between each other's homes when they are due to be at their dad's home and when they are due to be home with me?"

"During this time of lockdown, surely the father cannot still pick the child up for visitation? Or is there lenience for that?"

"My ex and I have 2 young children. She has suggested we all stay in one house during lockdown. Can we not move the children between our houses?"

"Due to the current lockdown imposed, the father is refusing to let her return home before lockdown begins. Any discussion I've tried to have with her dad has him calling me selfish and only thinking of myself. Our parenting plan stipulates primary residence at my house and visitation with her dad every second weekend, holidays shared equally. What do I do?"

"We just don't know."  

We approached our network of legal professionals, and the short answer from many of them is: We don't know.

Felicity Guest, founder of Child Maintenance Difficulties South Africa (CMDSA), let us know that family law professionals are working on this right now, and will have answers by the end of the day.

One attorney told us that a network of family law specialists are approaching magistrates at courts in all the major cities across South Africa today.

But currently, she revealed "We just don't know."  

The best interests of the child

"For now, it is suggested that the child remain in the primary caregivers care unless the other parent can offer a better situation or care during this time."

For example, if the child's mother has a job that requires her to be away from home during the lockdown, such as working as a nurse, then the child may be better cared for by the father.  

"This is not the time to fight," she said. "Be reasonable. Each situation must be dealt with on its own merits."

Her opinion is that parents need to consider the best interests of the child, and consider in that case where the children will be safest during the lockdown period. 

Supervised contact

Currently, it appears unlikely that these visits will continue.

"By virtue of the current state of the country, I don't think we are going to be allowed to visit each other's houses. So parent's won't be allowed to leave home to do their supervised visits."

She advises each family approach their attorney and draw up a reasonable plan for the weeks ahead, and to consider how to make up for lost time in the future.  

Make arrangements accordingly

ADR Practitioner Rushka Lee Pedro, founder of Minor Impact, shared some insights and advice from her partners at SLDP Attorneys.

"We are going through a tough time as a country and we  have no doubt that we, as a people, will come out on top," she assured Parent24.

"However, during this time and as reiterated by President Ramaphosa, you will only be allowed out in times of emergency and for food items."

"Fortunately, we are living in a time of technology and video calls can be made and voice notes and pictures can be sent. We urge all parents out there to make arrangements accordingly to operate efficiently during this time."

Unchartered territory 

Deborah Di Siena, of Di Siena Attorneys, told Parent24 that the lockdown affects everyone and no one will be allowed to leave their homes for the 21 days unless under strictly controlled circumstances, including seeking medical care, buying food, medicine or other supplies and collecting social grants.

"This is unchartered territory for everyone in South Africa," she told us.

"However, the measures put in place by the President are clear - no one is allowed to leave their homes except under the circumstances mentioned above. Our view is that parents will not be allowed to pick up children for visitation during this period and will have to exercise their contact via Skype or on the telephone." 

If the nationwide lockdown is extended beyond the 21 days, Di Siena suugests that it is likely that parents will still not be allowed to move children between homes.

*This is a developing story

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