Child Access during COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis


Divorce and COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Compliance with Family Court Child Access Orders


Posted 30 March 2020


We are living in a period of great instability and uneasiness. The threat of Covid-19 is now felt in every area of our lives and we see its impact everywhere – from cancelled travel plans, to the economic downturn and the security of our employment, and now even to restrictions on where we can sit when having a meal at the hawker centre.

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 is also going to have an impact on divorced parents and how they will manage access and visitation rights to their children in the chaos of the current pandemic.

The typical Parenting plan generally sets the rules on how to navigate joint custody, care and control and access but it does not deal with what the world is currently going through.

Parents should therefore manage the situation the best they can, to offer certainty and reassurance to their children, as well as their ex-spouses, who may fear losing access to their children even more than they fear the coronavirus.

We outline below some helpful general and legal principles for divorced parents to keep in mind that will allow them to navigate child custody and access arrangements in these uncertain times better.


Existing court orders should be complied – unless the government restricts movement further

Parents still have a legal obligation to comply with the existing court order for custody, care and access arrangements and risk legal consequences if they fail to do so. Nonetheless, if compliance with the court order puts the health of the children or others at risk, parents should exercise sensible discernment and make alternative arrangements accordingly.

For example, if one parent has been issued with a Stay-Home Notice or a Quarantine Order, it would be clearly prudent for that parent to avoid all physical contact with their children. Even if the parent has care and control of the children (the “primary caregiver”) but has been issued with a Stay-Home Notice or a Quarantine Order, the children must not stay with the primary caregiver and arrangements should be made for the children to reside with the other parent (the “access parent”) until the period of isolation is completed.

If however there is a further set of restrictions imposed by the government to fight the COVID-19 virus, and such restrictions make it almost impossible for the child to travel to the other parent, then it makes sense for children to stay with one parent.


Exercising patience and empathy, maintaining clear communication, and finding alternative arrangements

As mentioned above, even in this period, court orders and their access terms are still effective and parents should be careful to adhere to them. When a primary caregiver refuses to allow the access parent to have time with the children, the access parent should recognise that the primary caregiver has no legal right to do so.

Even so, the access parent should be slow to resort to legal means to enforce their access rights. Instead, both parents need to communicate well and express their concerns and needs clearly to the other party. All of us have different ideas for what is the appropriate response to this unprecedented viral pandemic. Even if one parent believes it is safe for contact to take place, it could also be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be deeply concerned about it. Both parents should endeavour to exercise patience and empathy in these trying times.

The access parent should recognise the primary caregiver’s desire to protect the children from the danger of contracting the virus. The access parent may do so by setting out certain safety measures they plan to undertake to protect the safety of the children, such as not allowing other visitors to their home when the children are over.

At the same time, the primary caregiver should recognise the access parent’s desire to spend time with their children. It would be unfair to both the children and the access parent to have their bonding and contact time suspended for an indefinite period. The primary caregiver may propose for access to be conducted remotely through video conferencing technologies, such as Zoom or Skype. The primary caregiver should also offer makeup access to the access parent once the situation stabilises more. When making such proposals for alternative arrangements, it would be sensible for each parent to record the agreement in an email or text message sent to each other.


When parents cannot agree on care arrangements

If it is difficult for parents to agree on what is an appropriate care arrangement in light of the Covid-19 situation and the relationship between parties becomes increasingly acrimonious, parties should seek to have a neutral third party involved. This may be done by way of mediation. If the mediation is successful and parties are able to arrive at a new agreement for access, this would be recorded as a mediation settlement agreement and becomes legally binding.

If mediation is unsuccessful and the primary caregiver continues to refuse access to the children, the aggrieved parent may seek legal recourse and retain the services of a family lawyer. The party may then file for a case of contempt of court against the primary caregiver for refusing to comply with the access terms in the court order.  But this should really be the last resort. .

Providing reassurance and stability to the children

Parents need to keep in mind that amidst all the fear and confusion surrounding Covid-19, their children are looking up to them for reassurance and support. Parents must learn to place the welfare and needs of their children before their own, and that means working well with the other party to make care arrangements that give their children the greatest stability. What matters most is that parents are able to rise to the occasion and set an example for their children in how to handle a crisis.



All the more so in an unprecedented health crisis that we face now, the interests of the children are even more paramount.  Their safety should never be compromised, but parents should also not use COVID-19 as an excuse not to let the other parent see the children.


Postscript dated 3 April 2020:

On 3 April 2020, the government announced a further tightening of measures that will last one month.

Most workplaces will be closed from next Tuesday (April 7) and all schools will move to full home-based learning a day later, as Singapore puts in place a “circuit breaker” to pre-empt escalating coronavirus infections.

Except for key economic sectors and essential services – such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services – all other work premises will close.

We have had many enquiries from anxious clients on this issue of whether access can continue to be granted during this time.

On the one hand, there are some parents who say that the interests of the child is best served if the child stays with the parent having care and control; that access should be suspended during these extraordinary times. This is because the underlying principle behind the latest stringent government measures is to break the COVID-19 virus from spreading, and that everyone should stay at home as much as possible.  The parent having care and control can allow the children to bond with the other parent via telephone, Skype, FaceTime or video calls.  After this one month period is over, the parent not having access during these difficult and unprecedented times can be given more makeup access time with the children.

On the other hand, non-custodial parents (those who don’t have care and control but who have access) are adamant that access must continue to be given. They want to maintain their bonds with their child.  Furthermore, all schools and most offices are closed and they can spend quality time with the child. The child may also feel “abandoned” and “confused” if access does not occur in these extraordinary and difficult times.  Most importantly, the court order granting access has not been superseded or suspended.

Our general view is that the the justice system can only work if court orders are obeyed.  Hence, until and unless Parliament or the courts stipulate otherwise, all court orders granting access must be obeyed.

We suggest the following guidelines to follow in light of the latest Singapore Government announcement to close all schools and most businesses for one month:

  • Existing Court Orders on parenting arrangements should continue.
  • Parents may mutually agree to modify the Court Orders to ensure COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, are being followed.
  • If one parent is infected or has to self-isolate, that parent would have to forgo time with the child.
  • The Courts will not tolerate any parent who recklessly exposes a child to any COVID-19 risk.
  • All parties must always act in the best interests of the child.

In the final analysis, both parents should really work together, exercise common sense and work out what is best for the child.


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