Tags: COVID-19, Family Law, Collaborative Family Law
Following the government announcement on Monday the 4th January 2021 of a further National Lockdown, you may be wondering what this means for your children and contact with a non-resident parent.
Whilst there is a “stay at home” message in place, this does not prevent children under the age of 18 from moving between households for contact with their parents, and some contact centres remain open to facilitate supported or supervised contact. The rules forbidding people from meeting indoors with people from other households include an exception where the meeting is necessary for contact, which allows supervised contact to take place where this is appropriate.
Whether it is appropriate for contact to continue will depend on the individual circumstances of your family and any risks that are specific to you or your children. You should consider what will be in the best interests of your child/ children and if contact can proceed safely, then it should.
In considering whether contact should continue, it is important to consider the negative impact that changing arrangements or stopping contact will have on your child or children, as well as any health risks.
Back in March 2020, the Judiciary released guidance for parents which can be found here. The guidance suggests that parents should sensibly consider whether a child can safely move between households and wherever possible, parents should communicate any concerns that they have with the other parent.
Where there is a court Order in place that stipulates when and how often a child spends time with each parent, if both parents are in agreement that this should be varied temporarily (for example, to stop or reduce contact), the Judiciary have suggested that parents confirm this agreement in writing, for example by text message or email. This may help to avoid a dispute arising later on. It would be sensible to do this if your arrangements if an informal one with no court order in place, too.
Where you are unable to come to an agreement about whether your child should continue to move between households, if a Court is asked to consider the position, they will look at whether a parent has acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the government advice at the time. For example, it might be seen as reasonable to temporarily stop direct contact if you or a member of your household is clinically extremely vulnerable and if contact would put the vulnerable household member at significant risk.
If you do feel that your child is unable to continue moving between households for contact during the lockdown, it would be reasonable to consider alternative arrangements. This could mean indirect contact, such as video calls via facetime or zoom, telephone calls and other forms of messaging. It may also be reasonable to consider whether direct contact can continue, albeit modified in a way that alleviates yours or the other parents concerns, for example by reducing frequency or arranging some contact outside.
The government guidance also states that where a child is under the age of 14, parents are able to form a childcare bubble with another household, and that a single adult (i.e., someone who lives alone or has no-one else over the age of 18 in their household) can form a support bubble with one other household. If you, or your child’s other parent has a support bubble, the members of the bubble are all considered to be one household. However, you and they might need to discuss whether the other members of the support bubble should spend time with the child or children, as part of your discussions about safe contact.
Where you are having difficulty discussing the arrangements for your children with the other parent, you may wish to consider speaking to a member of our Family Team for advice. We continue to offer an initial free ½ hour consultation for new clients, which can take place by telephone or video call throughout the current lockdown.
It may also be useful for you to speak with an accredited family mediator as a means of discussing the arrangements for your children. Mediators are unable to provide you with legal advice, but they can help you to discuss and narrow any issues.
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