Q: Following the announcement that Auckland will move to level 1, my ex-husband told me he has booked a trip for him and my oldest son to travel from Christchurch to attend the All Blacks test match in Auckland. He didn't consult me about this. They would be gone for two nights, returning on a very late flight on Sunday, despite having school the next morning. I am incredibly worried about my son catching Covid-19 while travelling or attending the game. My ex-husband refuses to wear a mask and I worry that this attitude will rub off on my son.
I don't want my son to go with his father. The trip is too risky and will leave him exhausted for school on the Monday. Can I stop them from going? If they do go, how can I ensure my ex-husband will make my son wear a mask on the plane and at the match?
A: Whether your son travels to Auckland is a guardianship issue to be decided between both of you as his parents. The top priority in any guardianship decision is what is in the child's best interests. A challenge of co-parenting is that you may not agree with your ex-husband about what is in your children's best interests.
Start by having a discussion with your ex-husband about why you are concerned for your son to travel to Auckland. This discussion may highlight underlying concerns that the other parent has not considered.
You are entitled to be concerned about your son travelling across the country at any time, but Covid-19 has raised additional issues. In particular, you are concerned about your son's health. Your ex-husband is likely wanting some bonding time with his son.
A compromise may be reached so that they could do a bonding activity without travelling to Auckland.
If neither of you are willing to compromise, you may need to involve an independent third party to determine what is best for your son. You could attend a mediation with your ex-husband. Mediation can be formal or informal.
An informal mediation would involve a trusted friend of family member. If you would prefer to attend a formal mediation, there are a number of Family Dispute Resolution services available, such as Fairway or the FDR Centre.
As a last resort, you could apply to the Family Court for an Order to Settle a Dispute between Guardians. You must have attempted family dispute resolution before applying to the Court. The welfare and best interests of your son will be the first and most important factor when the Family Court makes its decision. The Court may allow your ex-husband to take your son on the trip but impose conditions, such as wearing a mask when appropriate.
If the problem does escalate, do your best to minimise any conflict with your ex-husband in front of the children. Children can be very sensitive to any tension between their parents and it can cause them a lot of stress.
Wearing a mask
Children are often influenced by the views of their parents. It is possible that your son will not wear a mask if his father is telling him it is not necessary. You should express your views to his father but also explain to your son why you think it is important.
Communication is a challenge for many parents who have separated. If you are struggling to communicate with each other effectively, you should consider communication counselling. It would be helpful no matter which method of resolution you choose to pursue. You will have a co-parenting relationship for the rest of your child's life, so it is important you try to communicate well.
It is best to resolve any guardianship disputes between you and your ex-husband. Co-parenting often involves many decisions about your children. Where possible, an open dialogue between the two of you will be the most effective way to resolve disputes now and in the future.
• Do you have a family law question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.