Coronavirus- How To Manage Child Contact Arrangements

  • Author: Gemma Thew
  • Posted on: 31st March 2020
  • Posted in: Blog

Coronavirus- How To Manage Child Contact Arrangements

The recent Coronavirus crisis has created a multitude of extremely complex issues for UK Family Law. We have received a staggering number of enquiries recently from worried parents who are divorced or separated, raising concerns about how to manage sharing their children during self-isolation.

In an attempt to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced last week, that the UK was to be put into a state of lockdown. In his announcement on BBC News last Tuesday, Boris stated that:

‘People may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where "absolutely necessary", to shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs.’ Source (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52012432)

So, to avoid any confusion or anxiety, and with families being told to stay at home until further notice, we thought it would be helpful to explain how sharing child contact arrangements can work for separated and divorced parents at the current time.

Here’s The Good News:

According to the most recent Government legislation, children with separated parents CAN visit both parents despite the current state of lockdown. This applies to children under the age of 18 of divorced or separated parents. There was some confusion on this matter at the time of announcing the new lockdown measures, however, it has been confirmed that "Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes."

What can parents do to make the situation easier?

The child/children's welfare is key: The safety of the children is paramount at this time, and although it is permitted that children can have contact with both parents, it may not be feasible in all cases.

There may be family members who are self-isolating due to having symptoms of the virus, or being in the ‘At Risk’ category. In these situations, perhaps consider letting the child/children stay put if they are in a safe environment, and arrange for contact to be via telephone or virtual video messaging platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype.

To help further, parents should keep the lines of communication open between themselves or in high conflict situations, via family members to ensure that all parties are comfortable and confident that the child/children are in a hygienic environment with the necessary measures in place, to help prevent contracting or spreading the virus.

For example, you may wish to agree between you what the children should or shouldn’t do while in the others care, such as go to the supermarket. We would also suggest that you write down any arrangements that are different to those previously agreed or ordered in a court order so it is clear for all concerned.

Parents should give consideration to how they are going to tell the children about any new arrangements so they are clear what is going on. It goes without saying that a parent should not use the coronavirus as a reason to restrict contact unnecessarily. It is essential that even if direct contact is not considered safe, due to one parent exhibiting signs of coronavirus for example, every measure should be taken to ensure some contact is maintained even if this is via telephone or video link.

It may also be reasonable for such calls to be more frequent than they may have been before.

What to do if you cannot reach an agreement?

It is inevitable that situations will arise where parents cannot agree on the child arrangements during this time. When this happens it is important to remember that the best interests of the child/children are paramount and while it isn’t always easy to put your own feelings aside it is essential to ensure the safety of the children.

You may be able to involve a third party who can help mediate on the situation and try and help you work together to agree an appropriate way forward. This could be a trusted friend or family member who would remain un-bias.

Alternatively, you can instruct a professional family mediator to assist. You can also instruct solicitors to write a letter setting out your position. This may help if you feel unable to properly express your concerns yourself. As a last resort, you can make an application to the court. As with the rest of the County the courts are having to change the way they work and remote hearings are now in place.

The court is undoubtedly going to be busy during this period and it may not be possible to get a hearing immediately and you will likely have to wait a number of weeks.

Need more guidance?

If you would like some detailed advice on your specific circumstances please contact one of our family law solicitors by emailing advice@crosbywoods.co.uk or call us 01273 734 600.