We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is unprecedented. While a number of areas are being addressed by the government and the news, there is currently no formal guidance on child contact arrangements between separated parents.
This is particularly difficult for parents who have robust court orders setting out precise contact arrangements. It may feel that the plan has gone out of the window. You might need the other parent to take on more childcare responsibility whilst you continue as a key worker, or you may be unable to facilitate handovers as you are vulnerable and need to self-isolate.
Whatever the situation, we would encourage you to remain child focused and ensure that the children’s needs are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Our advice is to adopt the most sensible approach and keep contact going if it is possible and safe to do so. With schools and nurseries closed there will be a lot of uncertainty for children of all ages, so it is important to keep as much structure and normality as possible.
What to do if you are self-isolating?
If you are self-isolating because someone in your household is unwell or vulnerable, it is important to maintain some form of contact between the child and the non-resident parent. Sudden changes, such as the removal of a parent during an already difficult time, can be damaging to a child’s mental health. Children who do not have contact with their other parent for many weeks may worry that the parent is unwell or even that they have passed away.
Consider video or telephone calls during this time to reassure the child. Indirect contact may require some creativity so explore apps that enable the other parent to play with the child, do interactive homework or read stories to keep that level of connectivity up. The postal service might be strained over the following weeks so make plans to use email for exchanging photos, updates and e-cards.
Where possible, plan with the other parent to make up time that has been lost during this period at a later date.
Contact Facilitated in Contact Centres
**Update: Contact Centres are now closed.**
As guidance from the government sees the closure of all schools nationwide, there is the presumption that this will also be applied to contact centres. On 13 March 2020, the National Association of Child Contact Centres issued its own guidance to all accredited contact centres that falls in line with NHS public health guidance. This will not be applicable to independent centres.
Some contact centres are still running, but practising good hygiene by ensuring hand washing facilities and hand gel are available to all service users. We strongly urge all contact centre users to make direct contact with their centre to confirm their policy and notify them if you or your child are too unwell to attend.
Existing Child Arrangements Orders
Parents with International Child Arrangements Orders will be the most affected. In this situation, you have no option but to put face to face contact on hold until the Foreign Commonwealth Office advise that travel is safe. We suggest that you agree to more frequent indirect contact during this time to reassure your child.
For parents with existing Child Arrangements Orders within the UK, these orders remain valid and must be adhered to as much as possible, where it is safe to do so. The Courts will want to know that contact has only been stopped in legitimate cases where it is unpreventable or the child/parent is unwell.
It would be sensible to refer to your Order, as some do contain protocol for emergency situations or school closures. All orders allow for agreements to be made between the parents.
Temporary Changes to Child Arrangements
Most parents will need to put a temporary alternative child arrangements plan in place.
Where both parents are working from home or off work during the pandemic, this may involve moving to the summer holiday part of your contact order, with an agreement that you will both be responsible for the child’s home-school learning.
For parents who usually facilitate handover via an elderly relative, it may be wise to line up a number of alternatives to step in. For those who have contact at Grandparents’ houses, it may be wise to start contacting relatives to arrange an alternative venue or considering contact at the family home.
All arrangements will require a degree of practical flexibility. We suggest this is best broached through a conversation with your child’s other parent to see if you can reach a solution between you. If you struggle to have this conversation, then a family member or trusted friend might be able to broker an agreement.
Where the situation is more complicated or you are not making the progress you feel you should, you could benefit from the support of a solicitor. At Allard Bailey Family Law, our solicitors are skilled and experienced negotiators and can act on your behalf. You can rest assured that our modern working practices and flexible approach mean we are able to continue working throughout the pandemic to provide legal assistance tailored to your situation.
**On 24 March 2020 the Family Court issued specific advice, you can refer to our latest blog for the most current information. Click to read: FURTHER ADVICE ON CHILD ARRANGEMENTS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) CRISIS**
If you need to instruct a Solicitor to assist with urgent Child Arrangements issues, Louise Allard or Sabrina Bailey can be contacted directly.
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