Covid-19 and the Circuit-Breaker measures have caused concerns among divorced couples, especially those with children
Some worry that the movement restrictions in place during this period will prevent them from visiting their children who do not live with them (in legal terms, this right to visit is called access). On a more acrimonious front, there have also been reports of divorced couples using the Circuit-Breaker measures as an excuse to deny their ex-spouse from visiting their children
The Government has also announced that the mid-year school holidays will now be pushed up to run from 5 May 2020 to 1 June 2020. From our experience, access during the school holidays is extremely precious to divorced parents who do not live with their children. Many of them use this period to spend extra time with their children. And now that outdoor activities are severely limited, being able to interact with their children in the safety of their own homes becomes even more important.
Am I allowed to have physical access to my children during the Circuit Breaker?
Under the Circuit-Breaker measures, we are generally not allowed to visit others who do not live in the same house or home as we do. This rule is strict, and prevents us from visiting even family members who live apart from us.
However, an exception applies to parents who need to hand over their children to their ex-spouse or soon to be ex-spouse following any agreement or court order on access rights.
For example, Terry and Megan are divorced. They have a daughter – Dawn. Megan has care and control of Dawn (which means that Dawn ordinarily lives with Megan). The court order accompanying the divorce states that Terry can visit Dawn on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Before Covid-19 hit, Terry has been abiding by this. He either spends time with Dawn at Megan’s home, or takes Dawn out for meals or outdoor activities. Megan will sometimes bring Dawn over to Terry’s home.
The current exception that applies to divorced parents will mean that Terry can still visit Megan to pick Dawn up (and bring Dawn over to his place) and to later drop Dawn back at Megan’s place. Megan can similarly visit Terry to drop Dawn at Terry’s place, and to pick Dawn up later.
What the couple may not be able to do now is to spend time with Dawn at each other’s place. Terry is also unable, for obvious reasons, to take Dawn outdoors.
What can I do if my ex-spouse is preventing me from having access to my children?
Remember, the focus should always be on the best interest of your children. Thus, you and your ex-spouse or soon to be ex-spouse must, for the sake of your children, communicate and try to agree as much as possible on mutual access so that the children’s health, safety and well-being are protected.
If you are having difficulties gaining access to your children, you may wish to consider taking the following steps:
- Remind your ex-spouse that it is in your children’s best interest to spend time with both parents. Be assuring: let your ex-spouse know that you will take the necessary precautions when spending time or commuting with your children, i.e. you will ensure your children wear masks, avoid crowds, wash their hands regularly etc. Recognise that, most times, disagreements arise because both parties share a similar concern for their children, but cannot agree on how best to express this concern.
- Gently let your ex-spouse know that, under the law, you are still allowed to have access to your children even during the Circuit Breaker. Explain to them what you can do, and what you cannot do. Assure them that you will not do what you are not permitted to do.
- Be flexible. If you ordinarily have access to your children three days a week, and your ex-spouse now suggests cutting it down to two days because he does not want the children to spend too much time outside the home, be prepared to accommodate. Do not insist strictly on exercising your legal rights. These are unprecedented times, which call for all of us to make certain adjustments and compromises to our routines.
- Explore other methods of keeping in touch with your children such as via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp call. This may not the same as seeing your children physically, but may beat not spending any time with them at all.
- As far as possible, try to communicate with your ex-spouse using written means such as WhatsApp or SMS messages. These written records may come in handy if you decide later that legal recourse is necessary.
If your ex-spouse is not being reasonable in granting you the access you are entitled to during this Circuit Breaker, you may consider taking further action against him or her. There are different ways to enforce an access order. Less confrontational ways include mediation or private negotiations between parties to resolve their disagreements. A more hardline approach may involve starting legal action against the unreasonable ex-spouse for contempt of court (i.e. a criminal offence where one breaches a court order).
However, do note that because the courts are only hearing essential and urgent matters during this Circuit Breaker, any recourse filed with the courts may only be heard after 1 June 2020. If you are facing difficulties in these times, trying to work things out with your ex-spouse would be a prudent first measure. If that does not work out, speak to a lawyer, who will advise you on whether or not you can or should take further action.
This article is written by DC Law LLC. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice. If you would like to consult us, we are contactable by email at email@example.com or by phone at +65 6589 8118.