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Maintaining child arrangements and
adhering to court orders in the face of Covid-19

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Maintaining child arrangements and adhering to court orders in the face of Covid-19

Published: 29th May 2020
Area: Family
Author(s): Helen Bowns

We are all finding ourselves in unprecedented circumstances, in every aspect of our lives. When you are in the middle of relationship breakdown, it is difficult enough to navigate those unchartered waters, without the added complication of a global pandemic.

If you are currently trying to negotiate with your former partner about the time you spend with your children, or you have recently obtained a child arrangements order through the court, you may be concerned about how this can work given the ongoing coronavirus situation. It’s also understandable to be anxious about the safety of your children or the vulnerability of others being exposed to a child that is moving between households.

What do I do if my child spends half their time with me and have with my ex-partner?

It must be said that a huge amount of common sense, pragmatism and goodwill needs to be applied. If there is a court order in place, then each party must endeavour to adhere to this as far as is reasonably practicable. In our previous lives, it might have been that issues arose about late returns of children, last minute changes without good reason, return of children’s belongings etc. However, these testing times should remind us that maintaining relationships and a routine is key to surviving these next few months.

Children should keep seeing both parents, if it is safe for them to do so, during this period of uncertainty. Therefore parents need to work together, more than ever, to ensure this happens.

What about if I have concerns about the increased risk of infection for my child if they travel between two households?

The guidance published on 24 March stated that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. However, priority needs to be given to shielding vulnerable family members, and if a child is living in a household where a person shows symptoms, then the appropriate self-isolation period needs to be applied.

The president of the Family Division clarified that, whilst children are able to move between households, this does not mean that they must do so. He stressed that the decision as to whether a child should move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make, after sensible assessment of all of the circumstance, and that they should communicate with one another to come to a practical solution. This includes taking into account your child’s health (especially if they have any underlying health issues), the chance of risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable people that the government have identified as needing to shield.

Agreeing to changes to arrangement orders

It is far more straightforward if both parents agree that it would be safer for the child to stay in the home in which they reside and instead have indirect contact to the other parent through channels such as FaceTime, Zoom and telephone calls. You should explain to your child why any arrangements are being changed and what they can do to maintain a relationship with their other parent.

If both parents agree to the change in the arrangements then it’s a good idea to record this change in writing, so that everybody is clear on the position. This is also helpful if a disagreement arises further down the line and it goes to court. Having a written agreement in place will show the court why these changes were implemented in the first place.

What do I do if my ex-partner is using coronavirus to stop me seeing my child?

Unfortunately, in these unprecedented times there will always be people who try to take advantage of circumstances for their own advantage. Family law can cause high conflict and people caught in family disputes may behave very irrationally as they try to leverage situations to suit their goals.

It’s really important that any parent who makes this decision is doing so because they believe that to continue with the arrangements would be against the government’s advice and would expose their child, or another member of the household, to risk. However, it is essential that other methods of contact are put in place, such as regular video calls, to ensure that the child can still maintain a good relationship with the parent they do not currently live with.

If you believe your ex-partner has changed the arrangement order unfairly, or hasn’t implemented sufficient alternative methods of contact for you to maintain a relationship with your child, then it is possible to make an application to the court. The family courts are still accepting applications for child arrangements orders – they are currently dealing with these online.

Will coronavirus stop my child arrangement hearing from happening?

The family courts are still continuing with existing court cases, as well as accepting new applications for child arrangement orders; these will be carried out remotely and likely to take place by video conference or telephone conference. Our blog on remote court hearings gives an overview of how these are working in practice.

At Shakespeare Martineau, it is also business as usual. We are able to work from home and still deal with your case, and that can also include making an urgent application to the court if needed.

We remain committed to working alongside you to navigate your challenges, provide support and protect your interests during these uncertain times.

Contact Us

If you are in a situation where you feel you are being blocked from reaching a sensible outcome, our highly experienced team are able to assist – contact a member of your local family team.

For legal support in relation to any other matter, get in touch with your team today

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