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Coronavirus & Effect on Children Access Arrangement in Singapore

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We have had many enquiries from anxious divorce couples on the impact of the latest government COVID-19 measures on existing court access orders. 

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PKWA DIVORCE LAWYERS

Parenting Orders, visitation and access during the coronavirus pandemic

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(Edited and updated on 10 April 2020 to reflect Ministry of Health’s updated FAQ dated 9 April 2020)

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On 3 April 2020, the Singapore Government announced a further tightening of measures that will last one month to combat COVID-19.

These measures – acting as a “circuit breaker” to pre-empt escalating coronavirus infections – instruct that most workplaces will be closed from next Tuesday (April 7) and all schools and institutes of higher learning will move to full home-based learning from 8 April 2020.

Except for key economic sectors and essential services – such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services – all other work premises will close from 7 April to 4 May 2020.

We have had many enquiries from anxious clients on the impact of the latest COVID-19 government measures on existing court access orders.

Parents are naturally deeply concerned about the safety of their children and how the coronavirus and the latest tougher government “circuit breaker” measures will affect their children’s access arrangements.

Some parents want to ensure their children are kept safe and do not want their children to visit the non custodial parent.  The non-custodial parent however sees no reason why existing court orders on access cannot be followed.

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The Starting Position

While every family situation is different, the staring position is this:

Until and unless Parliament or the courts say otherwise, all existing court orders on visitation and access orders should be complied with.  .

(Note by PKWA Law:  Please see Postscript below to read the latest Ministry of Health’s FAQ updated on 9 April 2020 that access is allowed and can continue).

If access is not possible during this period, it is hoped that the parent with care and control will allow generous phone and video calls between the child and the parent who is unable to have access. To make up for the loss of access during the one month circuit breaker period, both parents may also come to an agreement on ‘make up’ access time when the control measures expire on 4 May 2020.

Parents would do well to heed the words of the Family Court statement dated 7 April 2020 that:

“In the midst of the Circuit Breaker measures, parents should act sensibly and safely in all arrangements made for their children.  Turning to the court should be the last resort.  Parents should communicate with each other or through their lawyers regarding existing orders relating to access.  They should work together to find practical and suitable solutions to access issues, bearing in mind the best interests of their children and the need to comply with the measures put in place by the government.” 

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The Family Court is only hearing cases deemed “essential and urgent” during this time

It is also worth noting that during this one month period, the Supreme Court, State Court and the Family Justice Courts will only hear cases that are “essential and urgent.”  All other matters will be adjourned further until notice.

This means that if you have any on-going hearings in the Family Justice Courts from 7 April to 4 May 2020, they are likely to be adjourned. It also means that if you have a dispute with your ex-spouse during this one month period, you will not get an emergency hearing date unless your case is “essential and urgent.”

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Useful Guidelines to follow in event of conflict

The Family Lawyers at PKWA Law would like to provide divorced parents with general guidelines on Visitation and Access Rights during this COVID-19 coronavirus health crisis:

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  1.  As stated above, all current Parenting Orders on access should be complied with.

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  2. It is critical that parents act in the best interests of their children. This includes ensuring that their children’s safety are met.

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  3. Consistent with their duty to act in the children’s best interests, parents should comply with Court orders on parenting arrangements. This includes facilitating (and not hindering) time being spent by the children with the other parent pursuant to existing court orders on parenting, visitation and access.

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  4. You cannot refuse to let your child see the other parent just because you fear exposure.  Just the fear of something is not enough to warrant keeping a child from the other parent.  If you believe there is an actual threat, you must apply to the Family Court.

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  5. With the latest government measures, Singapore parents will face situations that make compliance with current court orders difficult, and sometimes, impossible. For example, court orders may state that access with a parent should take place at a divorce support specialist agency. which may be closed due to the latest government annoucement. Or, the parenting order may stipulate one parent picks up the child at the child’s school, and that school is now closed.  What should parents do?

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  6. As a first step, parties should talk to each other about how to comply with current orders in the light of the latest government announcement.  Where current court orders cannot be complied with for reasons due to the latest government measures, parents should attempt to find a practical solution that is sensible and reasonable.

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  7. When trying to reach revised parenting arrangements, each parent should consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent.

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  8. If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements do deal with the COVID-19 situation, this agreement should be in writing by email, text message or WhatsApp between each other.  If there is a dispute later on, the Court can rely on the written text to understand what agreement may have been reached.

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  9. At all times, parents should act reasonably, and always in the best interests of their children. .

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Conclusion

If there are difficulties in complying with existing court orders due to the current government measures, the Court will expect parties to communicate in these difficult times and discuss their worries and concerns and work together to find a reasonable and practical solution in the best interests of the children.

If divorced parents still cannot agree as to how child arrangements should be varied, then they need to apply to the Family Justice Court, but unless the case is considered to be “essential and urgent”, the case cannot be filed or heard until after 4 May 2020.

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POSTSCRIPT DATED 10 APRIL 2020

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  1. After this article was written, Parliament passed the  Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill on 8 April. This new law to restrict movement is applicable now until 4 May 2020.

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  2. The Act lists only 12 situations an individual may leave his or her home, as well as anything reasonably connected with the items on the list.   For first time offenders, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both. For second or subsequent offences, the penalty is a fine of up to $20,000, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

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  3. Given that Parliament has now expressly listed the specific 12 situations where an individual may leave his or her home, many divorced parents are naturally anxious about the question of child access.

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  4. Ministry of Health has now confirmed via a FAQ on their website on 9 April 2020 that access is allowed and can continue:

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    Q I am divorced and my children take turns to live with me and my ex-spouse. Can this arrangement continue? 
    This is allowed. However, do keep changes to a minimum, where possible, to lower the risk of transmission across different households.
    Q I am separated/divorced and my spouse/ex-spouse has care and control of my child(ren). I see my children as per access arrangements. Can these access arrangements continue?
    Yes, access arrangements may continue, other than Court-ordered Supervised Exchange and Supervised Visits (SE/SV). However, due to the current situation, the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies have suspended the SE/SV. Parents who are affected may contact the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) via email at dssaprogrammes@msf.gov.sg or via phone at 63240024.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only, and to enable you to learn more about our firm, our services and our lawyers.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers of this website should engage a lawyer to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

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ABOUT PKWA FAMILY LAW

family lawyers singapore

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PKWA Law is one of Singapore’s largest family & divorce law firms, specialising in divorce law, family law, wills and probate. PKWA Law’s team of family and divorce lawyers are consistently named as leading family lawyers by respected legal publications such as Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific, Asian Legal Business, Global Law Experts and Doyle’s Guide to Leading Singapore Family Lawyers.

 Conveniently located at HDB Hub, PKWA Law offers affordable fees for the average Singaporean.

 Contact us at tel 6854-5336 for a free first consultation.

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