Q: The father of my children lives in Sydney. Our kids are 11 and 13. They usually travel to see him every holiday break. However, Covid-19 has meant they haven't seen him since January. The children miss him a lot and want to visit him in the upcoming holidays. They are dual citizens, so I think it is possible. Are the children able to travel alone during this time? When they return to New Zealand, will they need to be accompanied by an adult in isolation? Who is responsible for the cost of isolation?
A: For parents living in different countries, Covid-19 has made a challenging situation even more difficult. Living in a different country from your children requires a big commitment to be there for them whenever possible. Regular, reliable and interesting contact is one way to do this. Another is to organise regular travel to spend time with them.
Covid-19 has put a halt on travel for most parents and their children living apart. If the children are dual citizens, they are technically entitled to travel to both Australia and New Zealand. Weigh any decision against the significant risks and hurdles imposed by border restrictions.
As your children are under 15, they are not considered to be adults for the purposes of flying. Policies may vary between airlines. However, generally children aged 11 must be booked to fly as an unaccompanied minor. Children between 12-15 can be considered as unaccompanied minors on the request of their parent or guardian.
Some airlines may not be accepting unaccompanied minors for international travel with the current global travel restrictions. You should enquire directly with the airline whether it is possible to book them on a flight alone.
Quarantine and managed isolation
Each state in Australia has their own policies about managed isolation for incoming travellers. The current advice of the New South Wales Government is that children travelling alone may be granted an exemption from managed isolation. They will still have to self-isolate at their father's house for the full 14 days after their arrival.
On their return to New Zealand, the children will have to go into managed isolation for 14 days. There will be charges associated with this. The current cost is an initial charge of $3,100 for the first person in the room and $475 for an additional child.
As your children are under 14, you will probably need to apply to join them in managed isolation. You will likely be charged the additional adult rate of $950 to join them.
If you decide it is right for your children to visit their father, significant costs will be incurred. Discuss how these costs will be shared between you and their father. It may be worth exploring whether their father could travel to New Zealand instead. However, for many adults this will not be possible because of work commitments.
Whether the children travel and who incurs the cost is ultimately a guardianship issue to be decided between the two of you. If you cannot come to an agreement, you could choose to engage in mediation. This may be informal using a trusted friend or loved one as a mediator or formal by hiring a mediator.
Shield the children
Try to ensure that the children are not caught in the middle of any discussions. It is important the parents take ownership of any dispute and work through it themselves. Watching parents fight can take a big toll on children.
Alternatives to travelling
Your children will understandably be missing their father during this strange time. Talking over the phone or on Zoom is no substitute to being together in person. However, if you decide against them travelling to Australia, encourage them to keep in contact with their father.
Maintaining regular and interesting contact is not always easy. It is important for the children that they still have this time with their father, even if it is virtually for now. It will take work and may sometimes feel burdensome but the benefits for your children will be immense.
- Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.