Covid-19 Lockdown extension adds further burdens to Child Contact Arrangements


Our team: Ronnie Mortimer, Teresa Cullen


It is over three weeks since the Government published its full guidance on ‘Staying at home and away from others’ and we have certainly seen a number of articles published dealing with how best to manage Child Contact Arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic. This merely highlights the point that the Government’s social distancing restrictions are still impacting on Child Contact Arrangements whether imposed by Court Order or informally agreed between separated parents.

The restrictions have had a devastating impact on our society, not just on the economic front, but  we have seen a rise in reports of domestic abuse, the vulnerable and the elderly are feeling, and indeed being, isolated from society, and mental health is at risk. However, many of us would have seen the positive impact the Government restrictions have actually had on society. We have seen a stronger sense of community and camaraderie every Thursday evening when we Clap For Our Carers, we have seen supermarkets prioritising the vulnerable and elderly, there has been a fall in pollution levels worldwide, and businesses have risen to the challenge to show their sense of community such as Chelsea Football Club’s Millennium Hotel opening its doors and offering free accommodation to our NHS workers for the next two months.

At the time of writing, the Government’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has just announced a further nationwide lockdown for the next three weeks to curb the spread of Covid-19. What may have been seen initially as a short interim measure of social distancing a few weeks ago is now something that has become part and parcel of our daily lives. The lockdown extension will undoubtedly have a significant impact on how separated parents continue to manage Child Contact Arrangements.

The extension means that in some cases children may not have physical contact with one of their parents for months. The starting point for separated parents is by reference to the ‘Stay At Home Rules’, which state that:

“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”

Unfortunately, the Government advice does not provide any further guidance. The President of the Family Division has had to step in to issue further guidance, which can be accessed here. The key message to take from the additional guidance is that:

“where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a Court Order to be varied, the spirit of the Order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”

We have put together list of Dos and Don’ts to assist separated parents, but most of all focus on the welfare of the child which must be our paramount consideration:

  • Do abide by any Court Orders for contact / living arrangements where possible. If it is not possible, think creatively and work collaboratively to facilitate alternative means of indirect contact, WhatsApp, Skype – depending on the age of the child.  The Court will expect it.
  • Do consider making up the time that is lost by a parent who is unable to have contact at this time, perhaps by offering additional time for holidays once the Government restrictions are released.
  • Do give a united message to the child in an age appropriate way about why there is a hiatus in contact – it is important that the child understands, otherwise there is a tendency for them to “self blame” and assume that they have done something wrong leading to the cessation of contact.
  • Do think about bringing in outside help to work with you as parents to come to temporary arrangements during these difficult times. Many Mediators are used to holding sessions remotely and working on child arrangements for a temporary period and may only take one or two sessions.  Arbitrators are available if there are discreet issues to be dealt with.  Lawyers can assist – many are collaboratively trained.
  • Do consider in difficult cases approaching a good family therapist or Parenting Coach.
  • Do remember that the Courts are still operational, albeit with some tweaks. Priority is being given to urgent Hearings.  Much of the Court’s work is now being dealt with remotely.
  • Don’t bury your head in the sand if your partner / partner’s legal representative is trying to arrange alternative arrangements. Should your partner return to Court in the future as a result of your failure to comply with a Court Order, the Court is likely to consider whether your actions were reasonable in the circumstances at the time.
  • Do be reassured that moving a child under the age of 18 between households is a specific exemption to the “stay at home” and social distancing guidance.
  • Do ensure that if contact is going ahead the other parent is also adhering to the Government guidance, particularly on social distancing. If not, and it is not something they are prepared to adhere to, consider whether the child’s safety and that of the wellbeing of your household means that contact needs to stop temporarily.

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