Graphic: Pixabay
Graphic: Pixabay

Coronavirus lockdown: Parents with joint custody should 'act in the best interest of the child'

By Jolene Marriah-Maharaj and Lou-Anne Daniels Time of article published Mar 28, 2020

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Durban - Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has clarified the government's position on children whose parents share joint custody during the 21-day national lockdown. 

For now, children will have to remain with the parent in whose care they were when the lockdown came into effect at midnight on Thursday.

Zulu said her department had been inundated with calls from parents who share custody of their children who were concerned that they would not be able to see them.

“The child shall remain in the custody of the parent who whom the child was with when the lockdown was effected. The parent who is not with the child during the lockdown, in order to maintain a personal relationship with the child can make regular communication with the child in other manner including telephonic and other. 

"Many people have been calling me directly, to say cant we even exchange the child perhaps at a pharmacy or something of that sort,” Zulu said during the Covid-19 National Command Council's daily briefing on Saturday.

She previously encouraged parents to be make use of technology such as WhatsApp video call, Skype and FaceTime to esure that children are in touch with both parents.

The Department of Justice earlier this week urged parents with joint custody to negotiate in the best interest of the child. 

Chrispin Phiri, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said when it came to the issue of joint custody, court orders were still effective in the lockdown. 

However, Phiri urged parents to negotiate and see if alternate means of communications can be used during the next three weeks. 

"The Department cannot allow for contravention of court orders."

KwaZulu-Natal judge president Achmat Jappie said it must always be in the best interest of the child and not what the parent wants. 

"Parents need to communicate in good faith and to keep in mind that the lock down is only for 21 days and not forever." 

A Durban High Court judge said each case dealt with on a case by case basis. 

"While we acknowledge that the orders are in place and may be lawfully enforced, however they current imposition of the lock down must impact on the enforcement of the order ie: specifically moving the child during a time when movement of all members of the public except for essential services is strictly prohibited.

"If the child is in a safe space with one parent there is no urgency that the shared custody must be enforced. There are ways of facilitating communication FaceTime Skype WhatsApp video. The ministers at the media briefing on the lock down specifically mentioned shared custody and appealed for common sense. I endorse that.

"The parents should if possible amicably arrange electronic communication between the child and parent he/she is not with.

She added that the courts will not generally view an application to enforce shared custody as urgent, although this will be on a case by case basis. 

"Practitioners are also urged to advise their clients accordingly," concluded the judge. 

A Durban family attorney said while there is no order that has been gazetted by government, parties who have the kids for primary residence, retain the children to ensure their safety from virus and lock down.

The other parent who is going to be exercising contact be given alternate means of communication with the child by means of video calling. 

This is to ensure that the minor child is safe and does not have movement. 


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