Contact with children during the Coronavirus lockdown
For the next little while, the government have confined us all to stay at home, except for shopping, exercise, medical need or essential work. People have already asked me what does this mean for those who have arrangements in place for their children to visit their other parent.
The law is clear that the starting point is children should have both their parents involved in their lives unless it can be demonstrated not to be in their best interests or safe.
Many families have court orders that say children should spend time in both their parents’ homes. Government guidance since the PM’s 23rd March announcement has been confused, mostly as a result of Michael Gove having to correct himself. However, the government guidance does say “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
CAFCASS (the organisation that advises courts and helps families on disputes regarding children) has issued its own guidance. It says that, unless there are justified medical / self-isolation issues, children should maintain their usual routine between their parents. Child Arrangements Orders should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others at risk.
CAFCASS goes on to say that, if it is not possible to maintain arrangements or comply with a court order, we need to think creatively about how children can stay in touch with their other parent during periods of self-isolation. Skype and FaceTime are obvious solutions. They can be used to read stories, sing and play together. With older children, consider a watch party where you gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and reacting in real time.
If agreed arrangements or a court order need to be changed then communicate clearly and honestly with your co-parent. Keep calm and courteous and avoid using language that is likely to create tensions and, crucially, always keep discussions away from the children.
If you are not able to communicate directly with your co-parent (for example, if there has been a history of domestic abuse or you are simply not able to speak without it ending in argument) then consider using a trusted third party to help. Your solicitor might be a good person to deal with these communications for you.
Many law firms, my own included, are seeing the benefit of major investment in paperless technology in recent years. All our staff are working from home. We communicate by email, phone, messaging services and video chats. Our files are all held securely online and our computer systems operate entirely in the cloud. So, each of our cases can be progressed without paper.
Obviously, government guidance cannot provide an instant answer to every situation. If you would like legal advice, drop me an email explaining your situation.