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Maintaining contact with your children during lockdown

Posted on February 5th 2021

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, arrangements for separated co-parents were either structured through a mutual informal agreement or, by way of a Child Arrangements Order. However, the pandemic has created a “grey” area as to how child arrangements between co-parents should be navigated during the current lockdown restrictions.

What are the rules?

As a result of the pandemic, parents are dealing with social distancing, self-isolation, and uncertain work situations. The “new normal” has meant that any agreements between co-parents have become potentially difficult to manage and unpredictable.

In March 2020 when Lockdown 1 was announced by Boris Johnson, the government initially advised that children should not move between two different households. This was quickly rectified to confirm that under the lockdown rules, children of separate parent households are permitted to move between households and are an exception to the general rule that households should not mix.

‘Where parents or someone with parental responsibility do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes to continue existing arrangements for access and contact.’ Government Guidance: 1 May 2020 (gov.co.uk)

The Prime Minister announced the third national lockdown which came into effect on 5 January 2021. Here is a helpful reminder of how lockdown affects separated families and the arrangements with their children.

What happens if my child is self-isolating?

If your child has been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive for Coronavirus or, your child has tested positive for Coronavirus, then your child must self-isolate for 14 days or 10 days from when they experienced their first symptom, if the latter applies. At this point, you as the parent may also need to self-isolate if you have been contacted by Test and Trace and you have been in contact with your child recently.

Alternatively, if you have not been in contact with your child, you should resume contact with your child once their self-isolation period is over.

What if my ex-partner is using Covid-19 as an excuse to prevent contact and we have a Child Arrangements Order in place?

Through our experience at Oliver & Co, it is not uncommon for parents to be anxious about the pandemic and are fearful of contracting the virus. As a result of this, they have stopped their co-parent from having contact with their child.

If you have a Child Arrangements Order in place with your previous partner and they are denying contact with your child because of coronavirus, they are in breach of the Child Arrangements Order. In this instance, you can apply to Court to enforce the Child Arrangements Order. The Court will consider the reasons for disobeying and, if the Court concludes that the contact has been suspended without good reason, they can enforce the order. This can result in cost implications for the party who is breaching the order and the Court can also order the party at fault to undertake unpaid work of up to 200 hours.

Applying to Court to enforce the Child Arrangements Order should be a last resort however, and you should try to resolve matters with your ex-partner amicably, if possible.

What if our informal contact arrangement has broken down?

There are a number of actions you can take following the breakdown of an informal contact arrangement;

  1. In the first instance, you should contact your ex-partner to try and discuss a new informal arrangement, possibly with terms that address the other’s concerns regarding any Coronavirus related issues, to see if you can reach an informal agreement between yourselves.
  2. If you are unable to resolve matters direct, a solicitor’s letter can be drafted and sent to your ex-partner, setting out your proposals for contact with your child.
  3. If you are still unable to reach agreement, then you should arrange a mediation meeting with your ex-partner. Mediation is the process whereby yourself and your ex-partner can negotiate the future arrangements for your children, assisted by an independent mediator who can help you both discuss and work through your issues. You need to have tried to resolve matters through mediation before you can apply to Court.
  4. If you are unable to resolve matters amicably by using the above 3 options, then you can apply to Court for a Child Arrangements Order. A Child Arrangements Order can regulate with whom a child spends time or otherwise has contact, and when. The amount of time can either be specified in the order, to cover weekend visits or holidays, or the order could provide for ‘reasonable contact’ whereby the arrangements can be made by the parents.

How can we help?

At Oliver & Co, our team of family solicitors have over 30 years of experience in dealing with family matters, ranging from divorce and financial proceedings to matters involving children of the family. They have the knowledge required to argue your case whilst also providing a much-needed understanding and sympathetic ear.

If you would like to speak with one of our family law solicitors, please contact us on 01244 312 306 or law@oliverandco.co.uk.

Call and speak to a lawyer on 01244 312306