Family Solicitor Dean Vickery discusses various issues around child arrangements and coronavirus covid-19
Pubs and restaurants closed on Friday 20th March.
We then faced a lock-down on 23rd March 2020
With the country facing an unprecedented threat from covid-19 coronavirus, there’s going to be many changes in our everyday lives. The things which we have all taken for granted have now been reduced for the protection of everyone. We have now been asked to stop and change our routines and the way we live our lives. With pubs and restaurants closed from midnight last night, socialising is a big no-no. Travel is also restricted and we can only see loved ones in accordance with government guidelines. How do you cope with child arrangements and coronavirus covid-19.
Court orders regarding child arrangements do not allow for this kind of life. No one could have foreseen the effects this virus would have on the children of divorced and separated couples; especially now that schools are being closed for an indefinite period, (save for a number of parents in key roles). There is no confirmation of how long this may go on for.
This is now a time for separating couples to pull together for the benefit of the children. These children will want the support of both loving parents in these frightening times.
There are now several potential problems that have arisen;
Schools and many nurseries are now closed
Where most child arrangements orders have the various school holiday elements drafted into them, no one could have foreseen the impact this virus would have. Current orders which are now in place, do not address these issues. There are no child arrangements and coronavirus court orders as this is a completely new issue.
All parents love their children and arrangements may already have been made for Easter. These holidays has now been brought forward due to school closures. No one knows when the children will be back at school and this is going to put enormous pressure on both parents both emotionally and financially.
This may be a time to put past difficulties behind. The virus and restrictions will affect both parties with regards to working from home or being laid off. A parent may also not be able to work for lack of child care arrangements.
So, while some families are used to having a full wage, this may now be vastly reduced.
For many, in emergencies grandparents would “pitch in” to help with the child care. However, recommendations have indicated that because of the virus affecting the more vulnerable, this may now not be possible.
As events are cancelled and travel suspended or limited, so children’s routines may have to be changed. The child arrangements may have to have some voluntary variation to help get through these difficult times.
This is just a suggestion, to help families during these difficult times
This is not just about keeping a child/children for longer as there is now going to be unexpected extra time to have with them.
One of the main issues is going to be entertaining the children given the restrictions, which have been placed. It could be that the children don’t go back to school until the start of the new school year in September as it’s been announced that exams have been cancelled. Schools are closed indefinitely.
Parenting, now more than ever, is very much about sharing responsibility and especially when both parents are under pressure both financially and emotionally. There will now be additional pressures; everyone wanting the internet, the cost of keeping the heating on all day and other various issues. Arguments caused by mis-understandings and simply living in each others pockets during these difficult times.
We have looked at the school closure issues and there are further matters with regards to a parent who is caring for a child/children but who is required to self-isolate. This issue alone may force a variation of an order.
Parents are following guidelines which were never envisaged.
Under current guidance, if a parent is self-isolating while the child is with them, the child will also be required to self-isolate with that parent for 7-14 days (please check up to date recommendations). In another scenario, it could be that the child develops symptoms while staying with a parent. This would require additional contact time to stay at that parent while self-isolating and the child not returning to the other parent at the end of the period of contact as previously agreed or as set out in a court order.
A child or children may become too unwell to visit their other parent for the normal contact. This is isolation. It is not the child going out and enjoying themselves.
Remember that you are not alone in dealing with this situation
Parents across the UK are finding it difficult to tell their children, that all they have ever known has now changed; there is no freedom because of the seriousness of the coronavirus situation.
The absent parent may have to drop of clothes at the front door of the self-isolating children for the period of isolation.
Such instances may cause problems if you are required to comply with a court order or agreed arrangements you have with a former partner, but health will come before an order. There is no escaping the fact that there are now additional pressures on separated parents because of the issues raised above.
How to avoid potential arguments and disputes over child arrangements and covid-19.
Get ahead of the game and start communicating with your former partner now to try and agree a variation to the formal court arrangements. Talk about all the various scenarios and discuss what to do if you or your ex needs to self-isolate with or without the children. Another issue could be that a parent cannot receive their children at an agreed time as they are feeling unwell and are self-isolating.
A lot will depend on the relationship you have with the other parent. If there is no contact for various reasons, then you may want to contact your solicitor to ask them to write to the other parent to ask them to consider a voluntary variation (until the issue has resolved itself) which may help both parents.
Entertaining the children will not be an easy task!
Make no bones about entertaining children who are used to going to friends and places such as the cinema etc. It’s not going to be easy as these are not the school holidays they are used to. Not seeing grandparents and other extended family members will also be upsetting.
Remember that if the children are in isolation with the other parent, as upsetting as it is, there is little that can be done. Schools are now closed until further notice, so there will be plenty of opportunity to make up the “time-owed”. Most older children have mobile phones and other devices which allow them to FaceTime, WhatsApp, text, email and make calls. In the grand scheme of things the “isolation” is actually limited.
What to do if you are really getting nowhere with your ex
In some extreme cases, a party could apply to the court to vary the provisions of the current child arrangements order to draft new arrangements that are consistent with the new situation. Others may try to enforce the old order but this could prove impossible given the new set of circumstances and how often they are likely to change. It could be that one parent is using the situation for parental alienation.
Please remember that the virus and these new rules are definitely going to affect child arrangements. The situation will also have a knock-on effect for everyone from judges and court staff to solicitors and barristers being able to attend court. Be mindful that most, if not all will have someone who may be affected in one way or another.
Will I be able to go to court to deal with child arrangements and covid-19?
So, while you may want to make an application, this may take time and I would say do this only as a last resort. Given the situation, there may not be the court availability to hear applications apart from in exceptional or urgent circumstances. Even if you get a hearing, there may not be the staff available to process that application. However, if a party will not hand over the child/children given the above, then an application may be the only remedy
This is not about who has longer with the children, this is about pulling together at a frightening time.
A parent may have an uncertain time of living on a reduced income with all the same bills going out; there are additional pressures.
The watch words during these times is “voluntary agreement” to child arrangements between the parties and if I can assist in any way do not hesitate to call me for advice. I am happy to speak “out of hours”, as issues often crop up at weekends or during the evening.
There are no easy solutions to this crisis, there is only compromise.