Covid 19 coronavirus: Jeremy Sutton: Co-parenting lessons learned from previous lockdowns


Three new community cases of Covid-19 were announced yesterday. Auckland is now back at alert level 3, while the rest of the country has been elevated to level 2.

Navigating a lockdown as a separated parent raises some significant challenges. However, there are some steps you can take to make this time easier for you and your children.

1. Keep children in the loop

Lockdowns can be an anxious time for many people, regardless of their age. However, it can be an uncertain time for children too. This is especially true now that they have begun the new school year.

Your children are probably familiar with lockdown by now. They would still benefit from open communication with you and reassurance that things will return to normal soon. The constant discussion of Covid on the news can heighten anxiety. Consider limiting your child’s exposure to just the 6pm news.

2. Stick to any existing parenting order or agreement

Lockdown should not be an excuse for one party to vary the existing arrangements. Some parents have tried to do this in past lockdowns. This is not for the benefit of the children.

Any existing parenting orders or agreements should continue as usual so long as you live in the same district and neither household includes essential workers. If you have the children every other week with changeovers occurring on a Wednesday, you can still do this despite the lockdown.

Disrupting any agreement you have without consulting the other parent may cause you and your children additional stress.

However, if the other parent does not live in your district, you may need to adjust the agreement slightly to prevent travel across town or outside your region. You should agree about when the new changeover will occur and if any missed time can be made up in the future. You should discuss how any decision will change if the lockdown is extended.

If one parent or their new partner is an essential worker, the child should remain with the parent who is not an essential worker. This limits any risk of transmission between households and minimises the likelihood the child has to go to school.

The Ministry of Justice has helpful guidelines for managing shared parenting arrangements through all alert levels. For more information, visit here.

3. Phone or video calls with family and friends

If your children cannot see their other parent, setting up a regular phone call or video call is a great way to give them time with that parent. This will be especially important if the lockdown goes any longer than three days.

If your children regularly see other family members, such as grandparents, it would help to set up a call with them too. For an adult, a week is not a very long time. However, a child’s sense of time is very different so a week can feel like a lifetime.

4. Try to resolve disputes without a lawyer first

If you have recently separated, this may be your first lockdown sharing care of your children. In the early days of a separation, tensions can be high. Lockdown may heighten this tension as extra stress is added for both of you. Be mindful of this if you disagree on decisions about the children.

Try your best to reach an agreement between you and the other parent without involving lawyers. During lockdown the Family Court remains open but will only be operating in a limited way. Therefore, a quick remedy through the court is unlikely.

There are other methods you can use to resolve a dispute, such as mediation. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to help facilitate a discussion between you and your ex-partner. Family dispute resolution providers are also available to conduct mediations via Zoom. You can find more details at Family Works or the FDR Centre.

5. Your support networks

Caring for your child during these uncertain times is no easy task. Make sure you are setting aside some time to care for yourself too. Reach out to your support networks, such as friends or family if you need to talk to someone.

If you are working from home with children at home, you may find it difficult to be as productive as you usually would. It may be worth letting your team know you are caring for children at home so they are aware you may not be as responsive as usual.

You may also benefit from speaking to a psychologist, counsellor or divorce coach. These professionals will probably be able to assist you remotely. There are also some excellent free resources available if you feel like you need extra support. You can free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.


Co-parenting during lockdown will present unique challenges. Being kind and keeping open communication between yourself, your children, and the other parent is the best way to make it through this time smoothly.

– Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.

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