The COVID-19 period presents a unique opportunity for parents to overcome their differences, prioritize the children’s best interests and work towards positive outcomes. While the Circuit Breaker has been extended to 1 June 2020, social distancing measures may still be a part of daily life for the foreseeable future. How then should separated and divorced parents adapt their co-parenting strategies and child access arrangements in this new normal?
May we suggest 4 Cs to guide you during these unprecedented times.
Singapore amended its movement control laws to clarify that parents may “transfer temporary custody or care and control of a child pursuant to any agreement regarding the access rights of a parent of the child, or in discharge of a legal obligation”. It is therefore clear that existing Court Orders on custody, care and control and access still apply. A parent cannot use the current COVID-19 situation to unilaterally withhold access to the other parent. To do so would be a breach of the Court Order, inviting adverse consequences for such contempt of Court.
Parents who are unreasonably denied their right to exercise access to their children may either apply to Court for varied or fresh Court Orders on access or seek enforcement of existing Court Orders through the Family Justice Courts. Even during this Circuit Breaker period, the FJC may hold hearings to address access issues via teleconference on a case-by-case basis.
That being said, when existing Court-ordered access arrangements are no longer feasible or safe (e.g. supervised exchange at a Divorce Support Specialist Agency or at a public location), parents do not have an unbridled right to insist on previous access arrangements. A balance should be struck between safeguarding the children’s health and safety in their best interests, and a parent’s right to exercise access.
Understandably, parents are concerned that the children may be put at risk if the access breaches social distancing measures. The solution, however, is not a complete denial of access, but being willing to share concerns with each other and working together to address these concerns in a manner that facilitates the relationship between the access parent and children. Constructive sharing of information and concerns with one another will go a long way towards building goodwill and rapport in the future.
The COVID-19 situation will also undoubtedly have an impact on the livelihoods of parents, and in turn, on child maintenance. With Singapore facing the highest unemployment rates since SARS, some parents may no longer have the means to afford the child maintenance previously agreed or ordered by the Court. Again, communication is the key to avoid misunderstandings. To pre-empt any unnecessary maintenance enforcement actions in Court, you should inform the other parent of your loss of income and your plan for child maintenance going forward.
Both parents must also cooperate to make contingent/alternative arrangements so that they can minimize conflicts and best decide on how to take decisive actions for their children. Some of these contingent/alternative arrangements would include:
(a) Child safety plan: Preventive steps to reduce the risk of transmission during exchanges (e.g. mode of exchange, transport etc.)
(b) Medical plan: If the child falls sick, the arrangements to seek medical attention.
(c) Alternative access arrangements: Make-up physical access or daily electronic access via WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom to reduce the frequency of physical exchanges.
(d) Alternative arrangements for essential workers or if a parent has to be quarantined or be subject to a Stay-Home Notice: With the closure of schools, children will require care arrangements at home. If either parent is an essential worker who has contact with the public, it may be preferable for children to temporarily reside with the access parent.
(e) Contingent care arrangements: In the event that either parent has to be quarantined or be subject to a Stay-Home Notice, contingent care arrangements must be made to minimise contact with the parent to safeguard the health and safety of their children.
Such contingent/alternative arrangements should be put in writing so as to minimize potential disputes.
During these trying times, parents will need to put aside their differences and focus on what they share – their love for their children and to keep them safe and healthy. For the alternative/contingent arrangements mentioned above to be effective, both parents must be flexible, accommodating and understanding of one another.
With the June holidays being abridged after the Circuit Breaker, both parents may also need to make compromises to uphold the spirit of the existing Court Orders. For instance, parents could mutually agree to not have physical access during this period but to increase electronic access and allow for make-up physical access in the future.
Whatever the compromise may be, let the welfare of the children be your moral compass.
 Section 4 (e), COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020. Accessed at (3 May 2020): https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/COVID19TMA2020-S254-2020?DocDate=20200407&fbclid=IwAR2hDVT4oaGQH-r7T5VkA-a41VC4zHfu8PD4o3SOCNwiDmE_2zVwsTsi5wM#pr4-