Maintaining Contact Arrangements

One of the major effects of the current Covid-19 pandemic is the impact upon inter-personal relations – we have had to change how and where we see people who do not live in our households. This is particularly difficult for clients who share parental responsibility for their children but do not live in the same household.

Our Family Law team answers here some of the most frequently asked questions from the last two months:

1. What happens to arrangements that have been agreed at Court and where there is a Court Order in place?

Current guidance states that 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 contact arrangements but that does not mean that children must be moved between households. Parents are advised to exercise their parental responsibility and follow the Court Order where it is safe to do so. For example, if a child has been unwell or will be in contact with someone who has been showing symptoms of Covid-19, it may not be safe to move them between households until those symptoms have abated.

2. Should a child make the decision on whether to see a parent?

Parents of younger children need to make the decision on how contact should occur between the child(ren) and the non-resident parent. You should not ask the children to make a decision as that is just too big a responsibility for them. Teenagers may decide that they do not want to see their other parent and their wishes and feelings should be considered when a final decision by the parents is made.

3. What happens if it is not safe for direct contact to take place?

Use other methods to facilitate contact by way of Facetime, Skype or Zoom etc. Set regular times to Facetime or phone the other parent. Young children may not want to stay on the call for long as it is not the same as physically being together, but the other parent could read a story or a chapter of a book or something similar to maintain the relationship.

4. What if my ex-partner does not agree with the proposed alternate contact arrangements?

Relations between you and your ex-partner may be strained, but now more than ever it is important that you attempt to communicate in a positive way for the benefit of your shared child(ren). Children will likely be feeling sad and confused at not seeing both parents. Talk to your ex-partner calmly and try to understand that everyone will be feeling emotional at this time. If there is a Court Order in place, then this should be followed where safe to do so.  If you feel that it is not safe for a child to have contact with their other parent, then it is sensible to take legal advice before suspending direct contact. In any event, it is important that arrangements are reviewed on a regular basis.

5. I was previously seeing my child at a contact centre, what now?

Whilst child contact centres remain closed during the lockdown and have not reopened as at the date of this article, parents should be encouraging contact to take place virtually, i.e. Facetime, Skype or Zoom for example.  It is advisable to record all contact sessions and to make them as interesting and enjoyable for the child as possible. 

If you have any questions or concerns about maintaining contact arrangements in difficult circumstances, please contact our Family Law team to discuss. We’re here to help. 

Blanchards Bailey

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