Covid-19 in Singapore: How it affects Custody

Covid-19 in Singapore: How it affects Custody and Divorce Proceedings in Singapore

In light of the implementation of elevated safe distancing measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, there is much uncertainty regarding how access arrangements are to be carried out by divorced parents during this unprecedented pandemic. Access arrangements that are scheduled to take place at any public areas or neutral third-party institution such as DSSA Centre should also cease as the underlying principle is that everyone should stay at home unless for essential purposes.

 

COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and how it affects physical access

 

Further, Parliament has passed the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill as at 7 April 2020. The Act provides a list of 12 purposes where an individual may leave his or her place of residence. Considering that facilitating access arrangements is not on the list of approved purposes and not permitted under these regulations, it gives that impression that access will have to be temporarily suspended while local agencies and medical institutions work to contain the spread. The new Act also states that individuals must not meet another individual for any social purposes.

 

Exploring alternative access arrangements and possible legal repercussions

 

Nevertheless, in this time of uncertainty and uneasiness where Singaporeans have to make changes to their daily routines, divorced parents should take this time to work together and make alternative arrangements for the welfare of their children until these “Circuit Breaker” measures are lifted. Though physical contact may be not be possible or should be avoided, it does not mean that interactions between parent and child have to stop. Divorced parents should communicate and express their concerns to one another as they make arrangements to facilitate interaction or make-up access between access parent and child through online platforms such as Skype, WhatsApp video, facetime etc.

 

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Ultimately, divorced parents should as far as possible act in the best interests of the child which means ensuring that the parent and child bond is not lost. From the child’s perspective, it is already confusing enough that schools have been shut and if routine interactions between access parent and child also stop, it may leave the child feeling abandoned in some circumstances. Parents should work together to provide stability for their child during these difficult times.

 

The custodial parent should also recognize that the legal right to access is still effective and not unnecessarily and unreasonably deny the other parent any interaction with the child citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to do so. Thus, divorced parents should as far as possible use common sense, their own discretion and stand in solidarity for their children to facilitate access through online platforms.

 

One should note that if and when these elevated safe distancing measures are lifted and the custodial parent has unreasonably denied access to the other parents during this period, it may be grounds for legal recourse or a variation of the custodial orders or as a last resort, committal proceedings.

Conclusion

During this period of adjustment for all Singaporeans, circumstances may differ for each family and this article provides a general and broad view of how access arrangements are to be facilitated. We will provide further clarifications as and when we receive updates from the Government and the Courts.

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