The pandemic has given rise to a whole new world of conflict when it comes to child contact arrangements between separated parents. So what are your options and how can we help?
What is the position when you already have a child arrangements court order in place?
Child arrangements court orders must be complied with unless there are specific health reasons that would make moving between two households unsafe or the isolation requirements required by Public Health England apply. An isolation period would justify a temporary suspension of the court order for the duration of the required isolation period.
If a child cannot spend time with the other parent as per the court order because of health issues, the courts will expect the parent they live with to make alternative arrangements to facilitate regular remote contact with the other parent, for example, by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or by telephone.
COVID 19 is not a licence to breach an existing child arrangements court order. The courts will expect parents to comply with existing court orders where it is safe and practical to do so and any justification for not doing so will need to be evidenced.
What if you do not have a child arrangements order in place?
Regardless of whether or not there is a child arrangements order in place, the government have explicitly confirmed that children are permitted to travel between parents’ homes and therefore the parents usual contact routine should continue as normal unless there are specific health reasons that would make moving between two households unsafe or the isolation requirements required by Public Health England apply.
What can to do when a dispute arises over contact being stopped?
Keep calm and communicate.
When your contact with your child is being restricted against your wishes, it is understandably difficult to accept. However, if you can keep the lines of communication with the other parent and try to agree contact arrangements with your child’s best interest at their centre, this is the preferable option. Although the Covid 19 pandemic has given rise to many new areas of conflict, it also gives separated parents a great opportunity to show their children they can work together in their best interests.
Key steps which can reduce conflict are:-
- Reassure the other parent that you will comply with the public health guidance and that you have your child’s best interests at heart and the main priority is protecting the child’s wellbeing.
- Offer and accept different ways of spending time with your child on a temporary basis, thereby demonstrating you are acting reasonably and sensibly.
If communication with the other parent has broken down, try speaking to a lawyer to see if they can assist you in getting a dialogue going or prompt your
- child’s other parent to take their own legal advice. Hewitts offer a free initial telephone consultation in these circumstances.
Family Mediation is a great way to address difficulties with regard to arrangements for children. Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, family mediation meetings are largely taking place remotely and meetings can be set up to start addressing and resolving issues much more quickly than using a court process.
In the majority of cases, mediation must be considered before a court application is made in any event.
The presence of a professional family mediator can help to stop discussions quickly becoming an argument. Mediation allows parents to express their concerned and feelings about these issues at the route of the dispute. Understanding where you are each coming from is a big part of finding a solution. Family mediators are also hugely knowledgeable about the situation you find yourself in, and may be able to suggest ideas you may not have thought of.
Hewitts can assist you in making a referral to family mediation.
Where an amicable approach and mediation has failed and the dispute over child contact continues, it may be necessary to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order.
If a child arrangements order is already in place and it not being complied with without a reasonable explanation, it may be necessary to make an enforcement application.
If a dispute is brought before the court over one parent stopping a child seeing their other parent face to face due to health concerns relates to the pandemic, the court will look to see whether that parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official guidance and lockdown rules place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to personal circumstances and health of the child or family.
Where face to face contact has been stopped, the courts will expect alternative arrangementsto be made to maintain regular remote contact between the child and the other parent.
Stopping a child from seeing their other parent without a legitimate health reasons to do so is unlikelyto be viewed by the court as reasonable or sensible. Nor is failing to make arrangements for a child to maintain remote contact.
Hewitts offer a free initial telephone consultation to discuss any issues relating to child contact arrangements. Contact your local office today to arrange an appointment.
Bishop Auckland office Tel: 01388 604691
Newton Aycliffe office Tel: 01325 316170
Darlington office Tel: 01325 468573
Stockton office Tel: 01642 673701