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Local lockdown – How does that affect your child contact arrangements?

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

During the pandemic many parents have asked me about child contact arrangements and, where cases are ongoing in Court, whether they need to be complied with.

With different areas of the country now at risk of local lockdowns it’s crucial to understand how a family solicitor can ensure child contact arrangements remain in place, if safe to continue or to help consider temporary alternatives.

Separated parents who are not able to agree on arrangements for their children may have an order made via the Court. These are legally binding orders which set out with which parent a child should live and when they should see the other parent.  I have advised many existing and new clients during the pandemic, with and without an existing Order in place, on what has been a more difficult than usual decision that families have been faced with because of the added factor of the public health concerns.

The advice from the Courts is that in principle the decision as to whether and how children should move between parental homes is for the parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s heath, risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in any of the households at any one time. Whilst some parents have sought to change arrangements because they have been understandably concerned about safety issues there have been occasions where a parent has manipulated the situation to prevent the other parent from having contact with the children. The Family Court’s approach has been stated to be that a dim view will be taken of anyone who exploits the lockdown to gain advantage over the other parent.

Where contact has been stopped (whether there is the existence of an order or not) and without the agreement of the other parent, there are two possible approaches. A simple phone call from a family lawyer may in most cases assist in bringing about a sensible resolution of the issues where safe visits can take place, or in very difficult cases, where parents cannot agree, Court proceedings can be issued. The Court can list a hearing (albeit at the present time it may need to take place by telephone or the Court’s Cloud based platform or via video conferencing) to deal with any breach or to define contact arrangements.

It is always better to negotiate the reinstatement of arrangements with clients without intervention from the Court to address the specific circumstances in each family unit.   Technology has become even more important during these times in terms of video calling by Skype, Whatsapp/Facetime being used to enable children to “see” their absent parent even if the visits cannot be face to face. Certainly whilst the Court has and continues to operate on a reduced capacity and by remote hearing, every option has to be considered in the hope that Court action can be avoided so that families and most importantly children can maintain their relationship with their absent parent.

The guiding principle in Children Law is that the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration.  The more that can be agreed and any acrimony limited between parents, the better for children, who will not only have had to cope with the separation of their parents but in addition the scary and confusing time that COVID has presented.

If you have any concerns about your child contact arrangements please email the family team or call 0800 088 6004

Heather Davies

Posted:

Heather Davies

Family Law Practitioner

Heather is a long serving member of the Family Law Team. She has over 25 years experience in advising client on all aspects of relationship breakdown. She assists clients in respect of the protection of their assets when considering living together or planning marriage.