In our recent article, Child contact arrangments and Covid-19, we wrote about the irony of divorced parents with custody of their children now having difficulty in persuading their ex-spouse to do their fair share of childcare during the coronavirus outbreak. With schools closed and grand-parents self-isolating, many parents with custody are finding it impossible to balance their work with looking after children full-time, and are looking to their ex to help out.
Of course, the other side of this coin is that some parents are increasingly using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to withhold legitimate contact from their ex-spouse, or to return the children when their contact period is over. Here at Bretherton Law our Family and Child Law departments have received numerous queries from divorced parents questioning where their children should stay during the lockdown, and how Child Arrangement Orders should be applied.
Stories in the press tell of mothers and fathers trying to stop their children seeing their former partner since they are classed as a key worker, and so may be more at risk from contracting Covid-19. Others quote instances of parents refusing to allow children to stay with their ex as there are others in the household who are self-isolating after being in contact with potential Covid-19 sufferers. Other reasons being offered are that the ex lives in a flat and has no garden for children to exercise in, the ex will be less competent to carry out home-schooling for the children, or that the ex is working from home and so cannot devote time and attention to the children.
Naturally, these arguments apply both ways. Some parents will try to hold on to their children after a scheduled visit for these very same reasons. They may even argue that it is now impossible for the children to leave the house and return home as they have begun to develop coronavirus symptoms and are self-isolating. These difficulties add to the pressures of lockdown for everyone and children will be at risk of being caught up in these arguments.
The Government has issued guidelines on how to deal with Child Arrangements during the coronavirus outbreak, and have clarified that movement of children from one parent to another is permitted under the emergency Stay at Home rules. The advice, however, stresses that all cases are fundamentally different.
The guidance allows for some leeway in interpreting Child Arrangement Orders, such as permitting a child to stay at a different address or at different times from those stipulated. However, it clearly states 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.”
It is an obvious statement to make, but parents should put their own feelings, prejudices and fears aside and focus on what is best for their child. Causing them additional anxiety at this worrying time is clearly not in their best interests.
It can be stressful and complicated when relationships break down. Bretherton Law’s experienced Family and Child Law Solicitors have been helping people with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years. We are members of Resolution and Accredited in Family Law by the Law Society. For honest, sympathetic advice call Atifha Aftab on 01727 869293, or make an appointment via the contact form below.