Update 24th March 2020:
In UK government guidance published 24 March, it states:
Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes
Whilst parents may wish or need to adapt contact arrangements, they can, and should still continue for children. These are frightening times for children and maintaining normality will hopefully help quell their fears. Now, more than ever, parents should put aside their differences and co-operate and act in their children’s best interest at all times.
This advice should be read in conjunction with the following Government advice on what to do if someone in your household becomes unwell:
Parents want to protect their child and that is particularly true when it comes to the coronavirus. It is hard enough coping with the worries of looking after your children and safeguarding them in normal times but in a pandemic the job of being a parent has just got so much harder. That is the case whether you are living with your partner, separated or divorced. In this blog we look at the question of coronavirus and child contact after a separation or divorce.
Online children law solicitors
Evolve Family Law are based in Cheshire and Manchester but offer a full range of online children law services with appointments available by telephone appointment, video conference or Skype. If you need legal help with child custody and contact please contact us.
Stopping Child Contact Because of Coronavirus
We are receiving a high number of enquiries asking us whether child arrangements can continue now the government has restricted our movements. We are getting a real sense that the vast majority of these parents aren’t wanting to stop contact to upset their ex-partner or trying to use Covid-19 as an excuse to stop contact visits that they don’t like, but because they genuinely fear for their children and their families. At the moment the advice from the government agency, CAFCASS, is to continue contact arrangements as normal as CAFCASS thinks it is in the best interests of children to maintain contact so the children keep to a familiar routine, even if they are missing out on going to school.
Whilst some may say that statistically children should be OK even if they get the coronavirus that doesn’t ease parent’s anxiety and fears that children going back and forth between households could increase the risk of spreading infection to a member of your family who is in a high risk group with an underlying health condition and is therefore more vulnerable to Covid-19.
There is also a concern being expressed by parents about what might happen if a child is on a contact visit and the other parent falls ill and the family has to self-isolate or if the country goes into lock down and children can’t travel back to you.
One of the issues facing separated or divorced parents is that not everyone is as worried about Covid-19 as some are. That can create feelings of tension and acrimony between parents who are living together with their children, let alone separated or divorced parents where there may already be an element of mistrust or a history of communication problems.
Cheshire children law solicitors say that if you want to stop contact because of the coronavirus and high risk issues then whether you can legally do so will depend on whether there is an existing child arrangements order in place and what it says. If you have an existing child arrangements order and you don’t know if you can stop contact or not then it is best to take legal advice.
Coronavirus and Child Arrangements Orders
If you have a child arrangements order in place that sets out the parenting arrangements for your child then if you stop contact you are likely to be in breach of the court order. Your ex-partner could apply to enforce the child arrangements order and you could apply to vary the child arrangements order.
If you are following government advice to self-isolate because a member of your family is unwell then your ex should not apply to enforce an order and you should not need to apply to vary the child arrangements order because of your self-isolation. However, if it isn’t a self-isolation or lockdown situation, but you want to change or stop contact arrangements because of the coronavirus and any high risk concerns, you may need to look at what your child arrangements order says and your ex –partner may want to apply for a child arrangements order so contact isn’t stopped.
Cheshire children law solicitors say that the use of children court proceedings should always be the ‘last resort’ and it is best to try to negotiate a change in a child arrangements by agreement.
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Sorting out contact during the coronavirus outbreak
It is all very well for children law solicitors to talk about trying to reach an agreement about stopping or changing contact arrangements but many parents say that it is far harder to do that in reality. That is certainly true but sometimes it takes a children law solicitor to cut through the parental history of mistrust and get to the real issues.
In these unprecedented times it is inevitable that parents will want to protect their children and to ‘wrap them up in cotton wool’. What parent wouldn’t? However it is important for parents to take a step back and think that the coronavirus pandemic won’t be with us for ever and that when the UK comes out of the current crisis you still want to be on speaking terms with your ex-partner or at least be able to communicate with them over the parenting arrangements.
Therefore, if you are contemplating stopping or changing contact Cheshire children law solicitors recommend that you:
- Think about the reasons why you want to stop or change contact. Can contact still take place through reducing risks , for example , by you driving the children to contact rather than older children or the other parent using public transport to get to your ex-partner’s house or can you change the contact drop off point
- Consider if you can agree consistent rules on what the children can do during their time with the other parent. That way one parent isn’t doing all the home schooling and enforcing a curfew and activity restrictions for older children whilst the other parent carries on as normal
- Think about the alternatives to direct contact, such as facetime or Skype or phone. Bed time stories by facetime maybe something small children would love and the offer of such contact might reassure your ex that you aren’t trying to cut them out, but you want they want; happy and healthy children
- Take legal advice as sometimes an experienced children law solicitor can help you find resolutions that you had not thought about or help you with the words to help your ex understand why you are so particularly worried about coronavirus and child contact. It can undoubtedly be hard for an ex-partner to hear that you want to stop or reduce contact when they and the children haven’t done ‘anything wrong’ and seeing the children is helping them get through the coronavirus outbreak. However, this is a time when a children law solicitor can help you both focus on what is best for the children, whether that is getting you help with your fears, or helping your ex-partner to understand any particular high risk issues.
Online Children Law Solicitors
Evolve Family Law provide a full range of online children law services with appointments available with specialist children law solicitors by telephone appointment, video conference or Skype. If you need legal help call us or contact us online