Co-Parenting in the Time of COVID-19

by Atty. Maria Concepcion Jimenez-Aquino

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled the national government to implement the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ)1, which imposed strict observance of home quarantine and social distancing, limitation of movements to basic necessities, the implementation of work from home arrangements, the suspension of classes, and interruption of court proceedings, subject to certain exceptions2. There is no question that the families, particularly those confronted with domestic issues, have been affected, and the ECQ has raised several questions on how to go about custody, support, and cases of violence occurring between family members.

 

Custody

The implementation of the ECQ has limited our movement around the city and the country. This may pose a problem for parents who share custody of a child/ren, and who split their child/ren's time between the two of them in separate cities.

In sharing custody of their children, parents should ultimately be guided by the Constitution3, which provides that the paramount consideration must be the best interest of the child. In these uncertain times, the health and safety of the child are of the utmost importance and should not be compromised.

Albeit understandable that one of the parents' right to visitation can be affected by the strict implementation of the ECQ, it is nonetheless highly advised that parents momentarily set aside their individual differences, and prioritize the safety and health of their child/ren instead. That is why parents are encouraged to be more flexible and considerate with their shared custody arrangements, and refrain from taking advantage of the situation. For instance, the parent having custody over the child/ren is encouraged to permit the other parent to communicate with their child/ren via electronic means, if only to prevent anxiety or other mental health issue on the part of the latter. After all, parents should focus mor on their child/ren's safety, as well as their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Nonetheless, in the event that the child/ren's welfare is compromised while in the custody of the parent concerned, the other parent may seek the assistance of his/her counsel to avail of the appropriate remedies. Although the Supreme Court has suspended hearings, complaints, motions, and pleadings may still be submitted and may be acted upon if the Family Court Judge-on-duty finds that the matter is of urgent concern. This may be done through electronic means to the first and second-level courts.4

 

Support

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a huge effect on our country's economy, such that jobs have also been affected by the lockdown. This may have an effect on support, such that one or both parents may suffer reduced or a loss of income.

Parents or children may still demand support. However, due to the financial consequences of the pandemic, it is advisable for parents to be more considerate of the peculiarity of the current situation, the capacity of the person from whom support is being demanded and the current needs of the child.

It is recommended that any temporary changes agreed upon by the parents relating to support be put in writing or on record, with the assistance of their respective counsel, for documentation purposes.

Nevertheless, parents who are required to pay support, but are affected financially by the pandemic, may opt to file a motion to modify the support to be given by them. According to the issuances of the Supreme Court, such motion can be filed in the first and second-level courts through electronic means. All urgent matters regarding family cases shall be referred to the Family Court Judges-on-duty who are still present at any given working day, as scheduled by the Executive Judge. However, the paramount interest of the child will still be considered, and thus, the needs of the child will still be weighed in evaluating whether such support can be reduced.

The parent entitled to receive support on behalf of the child may send a demand letter asking for the timely payment of support to the other parent required to give support. At this time, this can be sent through e-mail. However, the financial capacity and the current situation of the parent required to give support should be considered, and modifications may be made regarding the amount to be given.

 

VAWC

The pandemic and its consequenced have forced everyone to come into close contact with the members of our household. For many, this means more time to be spent with families and reconnecting with each other. However, for others, close contact can also mean more conflic or domestic abuse. Coupled with the stress of the health crisis and the lack of access to basic needs and services, there is an increased risk of violence and abuse occurring towards women and children during this time of pandemic.

If a parent becomes aware of any kind of abuse at home, the same process under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (VAWC) remains in effect. The victim or any concerned individual or neighbor may report an incident to the Punong Barangay or the nearest PNP station, where the victim may be referred to for medical and support assistance and where a warrantless arrest of the perpetrator may be made.5 The victim may apply for a Barangay Protection Order, which is valid for fifteen (15) days and may be renewed.6 In any case, consulting your counsel is still advised for proper guidance and appropriate action.

 

Victims of domestic violence or any concerned individual or neighbor may also contact the following hotlines for immediate action:

1. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
Location: Batasan Pambasa Complex, Quezon City
Tel. No. 8931-8101 to 07

2. DSWD-NCR Ugnayan Pag-asa Crisis Intervention Center
  Location: Legarda, Manila
  Tel. No. 8734-8639 / 8734-8626 to 27

3. Philippine National Police (PNP)
  Location: Camp Crame, Quezon City
  Tel. No. 8723-0401 to 20

4. PNP-Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC)
Location: Camp Crame, Quezon City
Tel. No. 8723-0401 (local 5260, 5261)

5. NBI-Violence Against Women and Children Desk (VAWCD)
Location: Taft Avenue, Manila
Tel. No. 8523-8231 to 38 / 8525-6028

 

 

1 Proclamation No. 929

2 Par. 5, SC Administrative Circular 31-2020.

3 Article XV, Section 3, paragraph (2), 1987 Constitution

4 Par. 6, SC Administrative Circular 31-2020.

5 Section 11, RA 9262

6 Section 10, RA 9262