Family Law in Partnership director Elizabeth Fletcher answers questions arising from the BBC broadcast on the impact of lockdown on separated parents.
In recent days the media have begun to focus on the impact of the lockdown on the children of separated parents. The Government and the Family Courts issued guidance at the start of the lockdown but it is only now, several weeks later, that the full impact of how that guidance is operating in practice is being felt. Indeed, Sir Andrew McFarlane who is the President of the Family Division recently appeared with Samantha Woodham of The Divorce Surgery on BBC Radio 4 to repeat the guidance. A subsequent article appeared here.
As was mentioned in the article, the guidance is permissive, it is not obligatory. This can create uncertainty so I have attempted to address here some of the common queries that parents are raising with us now.
- I have a contact order and we are living apart: should contact between our two homes continue during lockdown?
As long as everyone in both households is healthy then a child should continue to move between both homes and spend time with both parents.
The President of the Family Division has stated that the court will look critically on a parent who has stopped contact simply because of the lockdown and in an attempt to prevent future contact. However, if the child shares their main home with a person defined in the guidance as “vulnerable”, then it may be sensible to limit contact during this period.
- I do not have a court order but we live apart: should contact between our two homes continue during lockdown?
Although there is no court sanction against it, it is certainly in the child’s best interests to continue to spend time with both parents during lockdown. Children need to continue to have as much of their day to day lives intact at the moment, when so much around them is in flux. A child who is used to the love and support of both parents in different homes, needs that continued love and support particularly during this confusing time. If it is safe for the child and other members of both of the child’s households, then contact should continue.
- I need to amend the contact schedule during lockdown, how do I do that?
It may be that due to the changing needs of work, home-schooling and protecting family members during lockdown, that the day to day contact arrangements need to be reviewed.
If so, the best starting point is to communicate calmly and explain the practical difficulties you are facing. If it is difficult to communicate directly with your partner, consider attending mediation via video conferencing such as is offered at FLiP. This can provide a neutral and supportive environment to consider all the options and find a solution that is in the best interests of your child and your family. If it is imperative to stop direct contact, then try to find other ways of enabling contact such as Facetime or Zoom calls.
You might find these recent blogs which we have posted on child arrangements during lockdown of interest too:
View Samantha Woodham speaking about child arrangements during Covid-19 on the BBC News here.
The author of this blog, Elizabeth Fletcher, is a Director at Family Law in Partnership. Elizabeth focuses on all aspects of family breakdown, but has a specific interest in managing arrangements for children both in and out of the court arena as well as resolving financial disputes arising from the breakdown of a marriage or relationship. For further information or advice on any of the topics raised in this blog, please contact Liz at E: email@example.com or T: 020 7420 5000 or visit our website page on Child Arrangements on Divorce.