Child contact arrangements for many separated parents and their children continued more or less as usual during lockdown. For some however, there was considerable confusion.
A common issue faced by parents during this time was how best to meet the requirements of court orders whilst also complying with restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. In particular, difficulties arose in situations where one parent may have decided to limit or stop the other parent’s contact during the lockdown period to protect children or other members of the household who were shielding.
Even now, that confusion continues for many as they adjust to the ‘new normal’. Does contact start up again exactly in line with court orders or can you change it? What if a parent feels that the previous arrangements are not safe and they still want to limit contact or they feel that it is not possible to restart contact with children at all?
The legal position is specific to each particular set of circumstances, especially as the guidance across England and Wales varies depending on where you live. However, the general approach is that everyone must follow the Government guidance and ensure that they are complying with it. The guidance is constantly changing and parents will need to keep up to date.
Where parents do not agree to change child contact arrangements, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that continuing with arrangements would be against current advice, then that parent can change that arrangement to one that they consider safe. For example, currently if a parent or someone in the household develops symptoms of coronavirus, the person with symptoms must self-isolate for at least 7 days. Everyone in the household must self-isolate for at least 14 days, even if they have not developed symptoms. Therefore, children should not be travelling for contact, going to school or other childcare during the period of self-isolation.
Where, as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent changing the arrangements, a child does not get to spend face-to-face time with the other parent as normal, it is expected that alternative arrangements are made to maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the stay at home rules, for example, Face-Time, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other video connections or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
If a parent is being put under pressure to make a child available to spend time with the other parent even though that would involve going against Government guidance, then it is essential that they take independent legal advice. At Neale Turk LLP our family law team has a wide range of experience in family law and relationship issues and can efficiently guide you through all areas of family difficulties, including complex child contact issues. We are members of Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals in England and Wales, who subscribe to a Code of Practice which is geared towards encouraging a constructive and non-confrontational approach in all family matters. If you have any concerns or queries, please contact us for a free initial appointment.