Q: I have an email from my child's school asking whether I will be sending them to school when we return to Alert Level 3. My ex-partner wants them to go but I don't think it is safe. I want to keep them home with me. What can I do?
A: As New Zealand moves through the Covid-19 alert levels, many new challenges are arising for parents. Whether to send a child back to school will be a hurdle for many people trying to co-parent after separation.
Any decisions regarding children must be based on what is in the child's best interest. Of course, you may not agree with your ex-partner as to what that is.
First, try to have a discussion with your ex-partner about why you both want to send the child to school or not. There may be reasons behind each of your opinions that the other hasn't considered.
One of you may be an essential worker, you may have a vulnerable person in your bubble or the child's school may be far away from someone's home.
Everyone's circumstances will be different, and it may not be obvious at first why they appear to be holding that opinion.
If you don't make progress with that discussion you may need to engage with an independent third party to determine what is best for the child. This may involve going to mediation with your ex-partner.
Family Dispute Resolution services are still operating under alert level 4. They are currently running online and by video conference. You may be eligible for a free mediation service if your income has suddenly changed due to Covid-19.
It is also important to remember that your agreed care arrangement may look different right now. If there is a lot of friction between you and your ex-partner any changeovers likely happen during the school day to minimise contact between you. If the children do not go to school, the changeover may have to happen at your home. You will need to work with your ex-partner to minimise any conflict that the children could be exposed to.
• The Ministry of Justice has provided guidance for managing shared custody through the alert levels.
Q: My ex-partner has had the children for the entire lockdown period. I miss them and want to be able to spend more time with them. Our current parenting arrangement gives me one week of the school holidays. Can I have them for both since I have missed the past month with them?
A: If you don't live in the same community as your children, you probably won't have seen them for the last three weeks. This can be hard on both you and the children. Hopefully you have been consistently communicating with them over text, call or video chat.
If there is currently an agreed care arrangement in place, that will usually be the starting point. Of course, you can come to an agreement with your ex-partner for an exception to be made. If you want more time with them in the next school holidays, try to work that out between the two of you.
If your ex-partner is not compromising, I would suggest you get some legal advice. If the matter was to come before the Court, they would likely look favourably on your situation given the unusual circumstances. This will depend on whether this is in the best interests of the child.
• If you need a family lawyer, you can find one here.
Q: My wife stopped working when we had the kids. I have a business which generated enough income for us to live off during our marriage. We have separated and my wife has told me she needs help with living costs and the kids. My business has been hugely affected by Covid-19 and I don't know what my income will look like in the future. Do I really have to pay for her living costs if I don't know whether I can pay my own?
A: The short answer is yes, you will have to help her with her living costs. At the end of a relationship, one partner needs to pay spousal maintenance to assist the other partner in meeting their reasonable needs if they cannot support themselves. It is usually for a short period of time to allow the other partner get back on their feet.
You can make an agreement with your wife privately or she could apply to the Court. The judge would consider your circumstances. The drop in your probable income potential would be considered.
Other considerations will include ongoing responsibilities for the children, your financial responsibilities (such as a mortgage, bills and care of dependants), the standard of living you had while you were together and the earning potential of your wife. As many other businesses will also be facing a downturn, your wife may find it harder to get a job.
Your best option is to negotiate a fair spousal maintenance agreement privately. The Courts are unable to work at full capacity in this climate so you will probably face significant delays. Going to Court is also costly and may damage your relationship with your wife which can make co-parenting together more difficult.
You may find it useful to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you get a clearer idea of what you will be obligated to pay. Listen to what your wife is asking for and ask how long she is anticipating to need your help. Explain your concerns about spousal maintenance.
If you are struggling to reach an agreement, lawyers may make more progress by negotiating on your behalf.
• If you need a family lawyer, you can find one here.
• You can find more information about spousal maintenance on the Ministry of Justice website.
Do you have a family law question? Email it to email@example.com. Questions should not exceed 200 words. Please provide a phone number. Your name will not be published. Jeremy cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give legal advice. Jeremy's advice is of a general nature, and he is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it.
• Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.