Child Custody/Access During COVID-19 Lockdown
About Honor Desmond-Tetlow
Ms. Desmond-Tetlow is a senior associate in the firm’s litigation group and advises on all areas of matrimonial and family law and in general civil litigation. She is also a trained mediator and collaborative law practitioner.
Formulating policy and introducing emergency measures during this COVID-19 crisis is no easy task. Worldwide, governments are introducing provisions aimed at safeguarding public health and avoiding an onslaught on medical centres. In this unprecedented situation the balancing of interests is difficult and the wisdom of any individual measure can only be judged in retrospect.
The Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Shelter in Place) Regulations 2020 as amended (“the Emergency Regulations”) restrict the movement of Bermuda’s residents in multiple ways. The current restrictions, colloquially referred to as the “lockdown”, are due to expire on Friday, 17 April 2020. Based on the current spread of COVID-19, it is possible that the period of lockdown may be extended.
Separated, divorced or unmarried parents may have concerns about the impact of the Emergency Regulations on their parental arrangements.
Regulation 3(3) of the Emergency Regulations, which applies during the current lockdown, provides that:
“For the avoidance of doubt, a minor child of parents who do not live together shall remain at the home where the child is living on commencement until these Regulations cease to have effect.”
In the UK, the governing regulations, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, make specific provision for a “reasonable excuse” to be outside, one of which is:
Para j. “in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children“
And so in the UK, either parent may leave his or her home in order to facilitate access or joint custody arrangements, for example, for collection and return of the children, whether this is from each other’s homes or from an agreed or court ordered meeting place.
If, here in Bermuda, the period of lockdown or shelter in place needs to be extended beyond the current proposed timeframe, it may be that our Emergency Regulations should be re-visited. Maintaining some sense of normality and security for children and sharing the burden of their care and education during this difficult time may justify the loosening of the current restriction.
In the interim, child psychologists and specialists emphasize the importance of continued family contact by video calls, messaging, phone or other means that allow for regular communication between children and their parents and indeed their extended family, as we ease our way back to what we hope will be a more familiar world.