As soon as the starting and ending times (26 March to 16 April) of the national lockdown were announced, Parent24 was inundated with questions from panicked parents asking variations of the same question:
Who gets the kids during lockdown, and can they travel between homes?
We approached several lawyers and family law experts, and the consensus remains the same: We don't know.
Addressing this, Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, Mogoeng Mogoeng, announce that he was delegating his authority "in terms of section 8(3) of the Superior Courts Act, 2013 to all Heads of Court in the Superior Courts and Magistrates/Lower Courts to issue such Directives as would enable access to courts in relation to any urgent matter, bail applications, Maintenance and Domestic Violence related matters and cases involving Children issues."
We spoke to Felicity Guest, founder of Child Maintenance Difficulties South Africa, who told us that as yet no directive has been issued, and that because the courts will remain open, it seems co-parenting issues will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
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Parents in panic
One stressed mother shared with us how her anxiety is at an all time high with not knowing when she will see her child again, if she will even get her child back after lockdown.
A worried father messaged us explaining that he has a parenting plan that requires him to collect his daughter on the first day of the lockdown. "Am I still allowed to fetch her?"
Another parent wrote to say they are in a high conflict relationship where communication is difficult, and asked what to do in this situation.
Unfortunately, because this is uncharted territory, we don't have answers.
Parents need to figure this out
The general consensus is that parents will have to figure this out between themselves.
This is tricky while we wait for further clarity on the restrictions imposed by the lockdown.
Will parents and children be able to travel between homes, will they be able to share custody as per parenting plans and where should the child stay for the duration?
These questions will need to be discussed by the parents, and if necessary with an attorney familiar with the case.
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What is best for the children
FAMSA Bloemfontein released a statement where they said that they are aware that there will be a lot of people in this situation, which calls for hard decisions, focusing on what is best for the children.
According to the organisation, they have received information that says visitations are authorised, adding "minors may be taken to the home of the other parent. Safety measures must be applied."
Their advice is the following: Lockdown means lockdown.
"This is a public health issue and our Government and health system are trying to preserve lives. The aim is not to infringe on your rights, but to protect the vulnerable."
"Parents need to work together, really focus on what is best for their children – which is not to get this virus!"
"Travel to and from homes could be risky. We would like to advise parents to work out caring arrangements in a calm way – as this is not the time for conflict OR to alienate your children from the other parent."
Court orders violated
If parents can't work this out between themselves, then they may have to go to court.
While the courts are available during lockdown, sitting in court exposes people to the virus which goes against the purpose of this measure.
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