The state of disaster lockdown regulations restricting movement of people have resulted in painful consequences for the children of divorced or separated parents.
Right up to the commencement of the lockdown period, midnight on Thursday March 27, confusion reigned over whether or not custody agreements would trump the lockdown regulations.
This issue affects many families, according to the numbers coming out of Statistics SA, which reports that the country sees around 25 000 divorces each year, of which 55% involve children younger than 18. This means that the lockdown regulations could affect up to half a million parents who have divorced in the past 18 years.
Sir Lowry’s Pass residents, Maddie Beal, and her fiancé, Deon Oosthuizen, were hard hit.
“So obviously the news of lockdown came a bit sooner than we expected, and as such there hadn’t been a discussion that we had really had as far as the kids go.
“Having joint custody of my fiancé’s two children, they are very used to being around both parents and not going longer than a few days without either one,” said Maddie.
“Naturally, the first question in our minds was what happens with the kids when lockdown comes. The legal pages on Facebook were flooded with the same question, but at that point on Monday (March 23) after the announcement, no one had an answer yet, just a lot of very judgmental opinions.
“At this point we decided with their mother to change our schedule to reduce the amount of changeovers during this period, and to hope for the best, expecting some clarity on the nitty gritty of it to come the following day.
“Between Tuesday (March 24) and Thursday March 27) we received nothing but contradictory information.
“Children’s advocates stating that handovers could be done, ministers saying they couldn’t, then saying they could, the helpline having a different answer depending on who answered the call.
“All of this uncertainty added to the enormous stress that we were already under. Our plans with the children changed numerous times, and even after receiving notice from the courts via our lawyers that parents with joint custody will be able to continue with shared parenting time, depending on who you ask, the answer is different.”
But any doubt about the impact of the regulations were dispelled during a Saturday March 28 ministerial briefing by Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu
“We have clearly stated that the movement of children during the lockdown period is prohibited … The child shall remain in the custody of the parent they were with when the lockdown was effected.” She added that this was to “ensure the child is not exposed to any possible infection” during transfer.
“The general opinion has been that it’s only 21 days, children will be fine, just use Skype, but this is grossly generalised, and not every child is the same,” said Maddie.
“In our case, we have children who would not manage not seeing one of their parents for 21 days – or possibly longer, since no one can be sure that this will be over in three weeks – and Skype is not sufficient for a six-year -old and a two-and-a-half-year-old, who want to be held and have the attention span of very cute goldfish on the phone.
“It was incredibly frustrating having the government seemingly leave clarity on this subject to the very last moment, while decisions on more arbitrary subjects like the sale of alcohol came out early in the week.
“It feels as though the people who swear that the safety and wellbeing of the children is one of their top priorities, let their care slip through the cracks during this time, and it has taken a great toll on our family, during a time when we just want clarity to do what’s best for our children.”