The current COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of our lives. From the over 70s asked to self-isolate for 12 weeks, to the school-age children whose schools are closed, to every working adult in the country trying to access essential food supplies whilst making a living, we now all face new challenges. In some cases these new challenges include trying to navigate a Child Arrangements Order relating to when children see each parent. It is a stressful and worrying time for everyone. Emotions may be running high.
However, during this time of national health crisis parents should try and continue to follow the spirit of any Child Arrangements Order, if at all possible.
- Consider whether the letter of the Order can be met. Is it safe for the children to travel between the two households? Can they get to the other parent’s house without using public transport? Can the parents agree to meet halfway to facilitate contact? If they can, then consider next whether there are any vulnerable people in the households. Also consider whether anyone in the family has displayed any COVID-19 symptoms or come into contact with any confirmed cases prior to the lockdown.
- In such circumstances perhaps an alternative form of 'contact' can take place. There are many IT platforms available now (many of which children are already familiar with) such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, to name a few. This may not be ideal but we are in unprecedented times and parents would be encouraged to be imaginative in trying to follow the spirit of any Child Arrangements Order.
- Where it is not feasible for the usual face-to-face contact to take place then consider trying to agree more generous time with the other parent when COVID-19 is a nothing more than a memory.
If you experience difficulties in communicating with the other parent then consider trying to utilise the many forms of resolution available to you. Speak to a specialist family solicitor who can guide you through the options. It may be that solicitors can break the impasse in a telephone call or round table meeting or engage a mediator or arbitrator to resolve matters for you quickly. Like for most professionals the use of IT resources means that remote meetings can still go ahead.
If one parent simply refuses to engage with the spirit of the Order then it is still possible to make an application to the Court. The family courts have been working tirelessly to ensure court hearings still take place, albeit remotely, and that the welfare of the children remains at the forefront of its daily workings.
Your family law advisers should be able to offer the services of mediation, arbitration and collaborative law. They should be able to provide advice via remote access, providing the full range of services, and remaining available to support and advise you during this difficult time.