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Separated parents’ concerns about contact with children during lockdown
Many separated parents are being faced with the challenges of Covid-19 and what it means for them when it comes to contact with their children.
The recent government stay at home guidance states that individuals may not leave or be outside their home except when they have a "reasonable excuse". A "reasonable excuse" does include continuing existing contact arrangements between parents and children where they live apart.
Therefore, the mandatory stay at home rule does not apply to children being able to move between households for the purposes of contact. However, many parents are concerned about the risks involved when their children are moving from home to home.
The President of the Family Division has noted that although there is an exemption to the rule is does not mean that children must be moved between homes. A parent should make the decision after assessing their circumstances for example their child's health, risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one home or the other.
Tips for parents when faced with this issue
- Where there is a Child Arrangement order in place then contact should continue as per the Order unless there is good reason not to for example where an individual may be self- isolating. Above all, parents should act reasonably and follow the governments official advice and stay at home rules.
- Parents are free to decide if the terms of a Child Arrangement Order should be temporarily varied, if they do, they should record the contents of the varied agreement in writing.
- If one parent has health and safety concerns, then it is encouraged that you discuss this with the other parent. Communication is key and you may find that you share the same concerns.
- If parents are unable to reach an agreement, then they could engage in mediation to settle their disagreements. Mediation sessions are still being held and they are conducted remotely.
- Sometimes it is not always possible to reach an agreement and it may be that your only option would be to bring the matter before the Court. The President of The Family Division has stated that where the actions of one parent is questioned by the other parent "the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonablyand sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family".
Covid-19 has impacted many lives and has altered the way we all are currently living. If the current Covid-19 restrictions has caused you to consider making changes to a contact agreement or vary a Court Order; then consideration and thought should be given as to what other safe alternative arrangements you can make to ensure that contact can continue.
This article was written by Rukhma Sohail, Solicitor in the Family Law Team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of January 2021.