Sadly, the short answer to this tough question seems to be: You can't.
Since the nationwide lockdown took effect on 26 March 2020, there has been much confusion regarding the right of contact with children.
The initial directive was that it is in the best interests of the children that they remain with the parent who has primary care of the children and that the other parent exercise contact via electronic means.
Then on 7 April 2020, the Minister of Social Development amended certain regulations regarding the movement of children during lockdown.
In terms of the amended regulations, parents who have a court order or a parental rights and responsibilities agreement or a parenting plan, registered with the Family Advocate, may move children between homes.
This is subject to the condition that the children may not move to a household where any person therein is known to have or reasonably suspected to have contracted Covid-19 or has come into contact with any person known to have or reasonably suspected to have contracted Covid-19.
We asked Deborah Di Siena, of Di Siena Attorneys, to explain what this means for parents who don't have a court order or a parental rights and responsibilities agreement or a parenting plan.
The children’s best interests remain paramount
Di Siena told us that while she agrees that the children’s best interests and their well-being should remain paramount, it is understandable that both parents and children may suffer as a result of the separation.
She says that electronic contact may not be good enough, especially in light of the fact that the President extended the lockdown for a further two weeks.
So while the change to the regulations is great news for some, it simply does not assist those parents who do not have a court order or parenting plan regulating their contact.
The effect of being separated from your children for 5 weeks (and maybe longer if the lockdown is extended again) could have serious consequences for both the children’s and the parent’s mental and emotional well being.
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Open the floodgates
However, the regulations are clear: without a court order or registered parenting plan, and as unfair as it may seem, you are simply not allowed to move children between homes.
Even though our courts remain open for all urgent matters and matters involving children, Di Siena says that it is unlikely that a court would entertain an urgent application for contact with children during the lockdown unless there are compelling reasons as to why the children should move homes.
Such applications would also have to be supported by a report from the family advocate or another expert.
This is understandable, she told us.
If a court hears and allows one application for the movement of children (where there is no court order or registered parenting plan), it will open the floodgates for such applications – and our courts simply cannot deal with this during the lockdown.
A better option
At Parent24 we've received queries from readers asking if the South African Police Services can assist.
Di Siena says the answer is "no" unless you have a court order or parenting plan, in which case the SAPS can assist in enforcing that order.
A better option is to approach the Family Advocate and register a parenting plan.
Call Pretoria on: 012 323 2375 or Johannesburg on: 011 333 3724.
This takes approximately 2 to 3 days, and both parents must agree to it.
A mediator can easily assist in drafting a parenting plan and having it registered. You can reach out to Di Siena Attorneys for assistance in this regard.
Risk of arrest, imprisonment and/or a fine
So, unless the Regulations are amended, you cannot and should not move children between homes unless you have a court order or registered parenting plan, which you should keep with you all of the time.
Failure to abide by the Regulations can result in your arrest, imprisonment and/or a fine.
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