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10 February 2021
Lockdown presents new and unique challenges for all parents, and perhaps none more so than those who are separated. The restrictions placed on person-to-person interaction can seem complicated, and the interpretation of them can lead to increased friction with regards to contact arrangements.
Here we’ve identified some practical steps to follow if you’re concerned about contact arrangements with your child at this time. The best solution for all parties can often be found in the first few steps, but in some cases additional measures will be required to resolve the issue.
At time of writing, it’s not clear when any restrictions are likely to be lifted, so the current situation could continue for some time, and concerns regarding contact should be addressed as a priority.
1 – Understand the Law
Under current restrictions, people should only leave their home for essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work. However, where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. The distance between two parent’s households has no bearing on this. This should be done in such a way as to minimise the risk of transmission, and reasonable precautions should be taken.
There are exceptions, and if a parent, child or someone in their household has Covid-19 symptoms or has tested positive for the virus, each member of that household must self-isolate for either 10 or 14 days. Consequently, any contact arrangements will need to be temporarily reviewed in light of this.
In a case where the parent, with whom the child lives with, has been informed to self-isolate due to coming into contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19, it does not necessarily follow that contact arrangements can’t go ahead. If the parent does not display any symptoms and has not tested positive for the virus themselves, then contact arrangements between the child and other parent can take place as the child is not required to self-isolate (unless they have themselves come into contact with the same person who has tested positive)
In most cases therefore, current lockdown restrictions do not preclude parents from observing the terms of any contact arrangements.
2 – Discuss the situation with the other parent (where possible)
It will not always be possible to hold a constructive conversation with your child’s other parent regarding contact arrangements, but where a reasonable discussion is possible, it’s often the most constructive way forward.
Any decision around contact should be made after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the risk of infection, the child’s present health, and the presence of vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
The official guidelines state that where one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with contact arrangements poses a risk to health, or goes against current advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
Given the potential grey-area this presents, it’s all the more important that such decisions are arrived at together if at all possible, to avoid friction with the other parent.
Clearly, the safety and welfare of your child should be prioritised here, and what’s right for the child’s physical and mental health must take priority over the individual preferences of either parent.
3 – Consider all options – including remote visits
Some element of remote visits could be considered as part of the solution. The past year has seen a boom in the use of video call technology such as Zoom or Facetime as a way to stay in touch. Whilst clearly not a perfect solution, technology can help to bridge the gap and maintain contact where it is not felt to be safe to continue in-person.
If the agreement is made to continue with existing contact arrangements, then thought should be given to how to minimise the risk of transmission between households. Measures might mean avoiding unnecessary stops between households, minimising contact with others, and scheduling any essential trips outside contact time.
4 – Obtain legal advice
Sadly, it’s not always possible to come to a fair and manageable solution without the help of a third party. Solicitors like ourselves can often help resolve amicably situations where friction and disagreement makes a mutual agreement seem impossible.
We offer a free first meeting to discuss your requirements and assess the way forward. Get in touch at 01924 387171 or jwpsolicitors.co.uk to book yours.
5 - Make an application to the Courts
If all else fails, it may be necessary to resort to the Courts to resolve a dispute over contact arrangements. In this situation, we can help prepare and put forward the best possible case to maximise the prospects of a positive outcome for you and your child/children.
Whilst covid-19 has impacted on the court system, as it has many aspects of life, the courts are still operating well, and many family court hearings are being dealt with remotely by way of conference calls or video link.