COVID–19: Lockdown and contact – things you need to know
30 March 2020
If you are separated from your children’s other parent, it is likely that the situation arising from Coronavirus and the new government guidance is going to impact upon contact arrangements.
During this stressful and challenging time this may give rise to disagreements on issues such as whether the children should travel or who should care for them during times when they would usually be at school.
As a starting point and if tensions are getting high, it might be useful to go back to basics.
Back to basics – what does the law provide?
- Most parents share parental responsibility, so significant decisions concerning the child’s upbringing must be made jointly.
- There is a presumption that involvement of both parents in a child’s life is in their best interests.
- If you have an order setting out the arrangements for the children, this will need to be considered in light of the current school closures and government guidance. Wherever possible, the terms of the order should be maintained as closely as possible and any changes are to be agreed by both parents.
- Despite the country being in lockdown, children until 18 can move between both parent’s homes as this is classified as one of the exceptions provided by the government.
What can you do if you can’t agree changes?
- If you disagree and cannot resolve matters directly, my advice would be to contact a mediator who offers mediation by telephone or video link (Skype, Zoom etc.). With their assistance, you might be able to work through the difficulties and reach an agreement.
- If mediation isn’t possible or it takes place and is unsuccessful, you can seek legal advice from a lawyer.
- The use of arbitration could also help which could take place via videolink.
- As a last resort, at the time of writing, the courts remain open however this would really need to be a last resort. Hearings are taking place via videolink but my view during these unprecedented times is that the courts will hope that most parents take a sensible and pragmatic approach and don’t call upon their services unless all other options have been exhausted.
- Over and above anything else it’s vital at such challenging times that you keep talking to each other. Keep in touch with each other and work together to co-parent the children, this will provide the most positive outcomes.
- If children live with you, and you are unable to comply with a Court Order due to Covid-19, notify their other parent immediately and put forward proposals as to how you suggest the other parent can see/speak to the children, taking into account the government guidance. If the variations you propose are agreed confirm any changes in writing. If matters cannot be agreed, seek legal advice or mediation.
- Try to agree a set of ground rules that are the same in both households, for example school work routines, phone times and hand washing routines. This can help clarify the arrangements and set down what each parent expects of the other when the child is in their care. It will also help to keep continuity and could also to minimise risk of the virus.
- Be flexible where possible – this is a difficult time for everybody but now more than ever is the time for working together and putting other issues to one side for the benefit and health of the children and the family as a whole.