As we end the first week of lockdown and home-schooling, many children will be understandably out of sorts. Their routines have changed overnight and many will feel anxious about the sudden changes and disruption to their lives. Now, more than ever, children need reassurance, which the continuation of contact with their parents will bring.
This is an equally worrying time for parents. However, despite the restriction on non-essential travel, the Government has specifically stated that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ households. The aim is to ensure that, where possible, contact and shared care living arrangements should continue. So, whether you have an order from the court or an informal arrangement between you, these will remain effective and there is an expectation that they will be followed.
For some families there may need to be flexibility around the arrangements, for example to take account of reduced public transport services or the needs of others in your household.
Now, more than ever, co-operation and communication between parents is key. So, where possible, keep in touch and provide updates especially if one of you or another member of your household becomes ill or is self-isolating. The current guidance for anyone with symptoms is to self-isolate for seven days and for anyone in contact with an infected person, to self-isolate for 14 days. This is going to throw up challenges for everyone.
There may be situations where your child is having contact in a household where a member develops symptoms during the contact period and your child must then remain where they are in line with the guidance. In these situations, the health and wellbeing of your children must be the number one priority.
There will inevitably be times when face to face contact simply cannot happen. If so, other options such as regular telephone contact and Facetime or Skype may help to ensure that your child can keep in touch with both parents. Ideally, agree times when this can happen and prepare your child for the changes to the contact arrangements.
Where parents do not have direct contact with each other, third parties, for example, other family members, may be able to step in to help with the arrangements for contact. There may well be situations where parents will use the current circumstances to prevent contact happening. Your lawyer can assist in these situations.
In some cases, especially where direct communication is an issue, expert mediation could be the best way to resolve any dispute and to talk about any concerns that you may have. This can take place remotely and early access to mediation should be encouraged.
Although it should always be a last resort, the family courts are still open and dealing with cases remotely. Where appropriate, parents can dial into court hearings or in some cases, use a video link. In these extraordinary times, Judges will expect parents to co-operate and to take all reasonable steps to find a way to promote contact for the benefit of their child.
If you have any concerns about your contact, the Family team at Slater Heelis are here to help you.