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A common question arising out of the current health crisis is “how does the coronavirus ‘lockdown’ affect contact when parents are separated?” We are open and available to help with these types of difficulties.

The clear government advice is to stay at home, travel only in very restricted circumstances and to have contact with as few people as possible.  Contact between a child and separated parents may mean travel between two households, travel over great distance, or mixing with numerous other people, all seemingly against government advice.  But both parents will want to see their children and there have been comments from the UK government, notably Michael Gove, that contact with both parents can and should continue even during the shutdown.

Like many questions in these unprecedented times, there is simply not a clear answer.

In short, our advice is Court orders, or contact arrangements agreed between parents without a Court order, should be followed where possible, but parents should act reasonably and use common sense to make decisions about where arrangements should be temporarily changed.  Agreement of both parents would be best if varying contact, and only in exceptional cases should a parent take steps to vary the arrangement without agreement of the other parent.

Every case will be different, so we would encourage to you call us to talk through your situation if you unsure what to do.

Where physical contact is restricted then efforts should be made to keep the absent parent involved, for example, by video calling regularly (using the “wizardry of modern technology” as Boris Johnson recently called it).

An important background point to remember is that underpinning most if not all child law is that the welfare of the child is most important.  Many children will be worried already by the virus and parents should bear this in mind when making the difficult decisions that may lie ahead and in explaining those decisions to the children.

The following is divided into two sections: firstly, where there is a Court order in place; secondly, where there is not any Court order in place (there may be an agreement between the parents, or the parents may disagree or be in conflict, or the parents may be recently separated and wondering how to move forward).

Court Order for contact in place

Court orders should be complied with and broken rarely, if ever.  There has been no official guidance that Court orders setting out contact arrangements could or should be broken in these exceptional times.  Accordingly, the starting point has to be that Court orders setting out contact arrangements should be complied where possible with even during the shutdown.

However, we would suggest that a common sense approach should be taken.  If, after weighing up all the factors, it is sensible to miss one, or a few contact visits then in these extraordinary times that may be the best course.  Wherever possible this should be done with the agreement of both parents.  Agreement will also most likely keep the stress for the child to a minimum.

Sometimes the situation will not be clear, and each parent may take a different view of the risk.   There is no correct answer.  As set out above, the starting point has to be that the Court order should be followed where possible.  One parent deciding, without agreement, to vary the contact order, should be avoided unless there is a very good reason for doing so.  If taking that route, details and evidence should be kept to support the decision to vary the contact in case the decision needs to be defended later.

Where there is no Court order

Parents should act reasonably, sensibly and prudently.  If it is safe to continue an agreed contact arrangement then do so.  If there is a risk then the best course would be for the parents to discuss it and agree how to resolve the situation, whether that is stopping contact short term, or agreeing it will be continued but the situation monitored.

Where there is disagreement, the situation becomes tricky.

The courts are shut except for urgent business.  Urgent business includes cases involving child protection, where someone is in danger, and urgent contact cases.  The Court would have to be persuaded the case is urgent and each case will be assessed on its own facts.  We would urge you to contact us to discuss contact if you find yourself in this difficult situation – we can help.

We remain open and available do advise on this essential point.  With child contact cases generally there is often not a clear ‘correct’ answer, and in these unprecedented times there is even more uncertainty.  Accordingly the best way to proceed, for everyone, is to do so with the agreement of both parents who should consider the interests of their children as paramount but should also consider the risk and the potential impact on society.

Contact our Family Solicitors

Call us on 01292 438530 (Ayr), 01465 754294 (Girvan), or fill out our online enquiry form.

 

Colin-1

Colin Duck

Solicitor 

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We’re still open for business.

Our team of solicitors and support staff are still here for you. However we have postponed any face to face meetings, restricting communications to telephone, Skype and email. You can contact the Ayr office on 01292 281711 and the Girvan office on 01465 713118