As soon as lockdown started, concerns arose about how child arrangements would continue to work. This was the subject of a child contact blog by my colleague, Kim Aucott, on 27 March.
Over the course of the last seven weeks, many parents have found it extremely difficult dealing with the adverse effects that the lockdown has had on their children’s emotional wellbeing. For many separated parents, these difficulties will have been greatly exacerbated as a result of children being restricted from seeing parents/families living in different households.
The guidance issued by the President of the Family Division on 24th March 2020 made it clear that children can, and should, be continuing to move between both parents’ homes where there is court order providing for this. Communication and cooperation by parents is emphatically encouraged; all aspects of managing relationships through this crisis can impact children’s emotional wellbeing and so, things must stay as ‘normal’ as they can. Children need more reassurance than ever at the moment and the long term impact of the current measures cannot be underestimated.
However, the guidance also confirms that parents are free to exercise their parental responsibility and can take unilateral decisions to temporarily vary the terms of a court if matters cannot be agreed.
Of course, there is good reason behind this provision, but there is also scope for parents to try and misuse their positions by imposing decisions about child arrangements which are not in a child’s best interests.
Although the courts currently have restricted capacity due to having to prioritise the most vulnerable from physical and serious emotional harm, parents who exploit the current crisis and act in a “cynical and opportunistic manner” can be held to account if proceedings are subsequently issued. The President has made it clear that unilateral actions taken by parents would be looked at retrospectively by the court on a case by case basis.
Parents must try and communicate with one another about their worries to find a practical solution. In line with the “no order” principle, court proceedings relating to children should be a last resort and Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques (i.e. non-court) must always be considered.
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If you are experiencing difficulties regarding child arrangements we are able to offer Alternate Dispute Resolution, including Mediation (which we are able to offer remotely as well as expert advice about court proceedings.
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