Co-parenting in a Pandemic
The Singapore Family Justice Court’s (“FJC”) approach to handling family disputes is to encourage effective co-parenting. Past cases illustrate that effective co-parenting involves prioritising the welfare of the children pursuant to Section 125 of the Women’s Charter.
Judges have reminded parties that “acrimony is no excuse for the lack of communication” (in the case of UKZ v ULA  SGFC 29) and encouraged parties “to look beyond their current post-divorce impassess and conflicts and move on to co-operate and work together for the best interest of their child” (in the case of UXV v UXW  SGFC 70).
In the most recent High Court decision of VDZ v VEA  SGHCF 2, the Honourable Justice Debbie Ong concluded that “ultimately it is the parents above all who must protect and promote their children’s welfare”.
Decisions relating to education and/or child handover for access are issues parties have to work together to agree on. In the event where both parents are unable to come to a consensus, a parent may turn to the Court to seek legal recourse and take out an application seeking the Court to make an order.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FJC has vacated most of its case conferences, status conferences, mediations, hearings and trials from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 to minimise the spread of COVID-19. This consequently means that any Court applications taken out by parties in the interim will be postponed unless the matters are regarded as urgent and essential (i.e time sensitive, poses a threat to life and liberty, or pertains to the urgent needs of the family).
In addition, the Learned Registrar Kenneth Yap of the FJC has emphasised that parents should work jointly towards devising practical solutions for access and other child-related issues with the children’s best interests in mind, and should comply with the measures put in place by the government.
It is normal to be concerned that the other parent may obstruct access and refuse to provide consent for certain decisions, citing the pandemic as a reason. Nonetheless, the Learned Registrar Kenneth Yap of the FJC urges “parents to cooperate, and act sensibly and safely in all arrangements made for their children”.
Here are some tips that parents may find useful during this difficult period:
Communication is key: Your first port of call should be to speak to your spouse or ex-spouse about any problems that you are facing with respect to the children. Having open communications will help parties prevent misunderstanding and miscommunication. Parties should keep in mind that certain compromises may have to be made in order to arrive at a suitable arrangement for both parties.
Be civil and cordial with your spouse/ex-spouse regarding child arrangements: This is especially important since the Courts will only attend to urgent matters as explained above. The Learned Registrar Kenneth Yap of the FJC has also reminded parties that “turning to the Court should be the last resort”.
Planning for care and control arrangements early: It may be best for parents to discuss care and control and access arrangements ahead of time. The situation is volatile and you do not want to be caught off-guard. Some issues that you may want to discuss with your spouse or ex-spouse include, how and where to conduct handovers, and the need for communication in the event of a medical emergency.
Related Article: Coronavirus and Child Access Arrangement Issues
Follow a structured daily routine: During this period of Circuit Breaker, parents and their children are no longer bound to their usual work and school routine. It is thus important to create a schedule for the children that consist of both productive learning and quality time.
Teach, not punish: The more time parents spend with their children, the more likely it is for parents to catch their children’s “bad” behaviour. This is especially true in this period as they are compelled to stay home all day, which may result in children feeling restless. Before you confront your children for any matter, consider taking a 10-minute break to plan the message that you wish to convey to your children. It is best to send a message that conveys all the lessons without being abrasive and negative.
Reinforce good behaviours: This is a great opportunity to teach your children simple household chores and responsibilities. Be sure to reward them for good performance and praise them for taking initiatives.