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Child contact, Covid-19 and Boris Johnson

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The latest Covid-19 and Child Contact Guidance for Separated and Divorced Families

On Friday the 16 October Boris Johnson gave another press conference from Downing Street on Covid-19 and the measures that the government are taking to fight coronavirus. The news was pretty grim but of major concern to many separated and divorced families was Boris Johnson’s comment about the new tiers one, two and three potentially affecting contact arrangements between parents and children living in two separate households. As London children solicitors we are already receiving calls from worried parents about changes to the Covid-19 rules on social distancing and child contact so in this blog we look at the current child contact guidance to reassure parents.

Online children and family law solicitors

At London based OTS Solicitors the children and family law team  are here to help answer all your children law queries, and if necessary, provide legal representation in children court proceedings. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment with one of our specialist children lawyers to get the help and legal advice you need to answer your family law questions on Covid-19 and child contact.

Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 and child contact comments

Responding to a question from a member of the public at the televised Downing Street press conference on the 16 October 2020, Boris Johnson said “alas“ some parents might face restrictions on seeing children but that people should check the government website on the new Covid-19 rules on social distancing following the implementation of tiers one, two and three.

The comments immediately raised concerns for some separated parents as in the March 2020 lockdown the government made an exception to lock down rules to allow parents to transport children between separated households to enable child contact to take place.

Do the three tiers of medium, high or very high prevent child contact between separated or divorced parents? The answer is that under current government guidance none of the three tiers of England's Covid lockdown system bar children moving between households to see their parents.

Although people in tiers two and three are prohibited from socialising in many settings with anyone they don’t live with, or they are not in a support bubble with, the rules on child contact are clear. On Wednesday the 14 October the House of Commons library briefing said that in tiers one, two and three there was no restriction on child contact and meetings for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children don’t live in the same household as both parents.

Covid-19 and child contact guidance for separated families

In these difficult times both the family court and The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) have emphasised the importance of trying to maintain some continuity and routine for children and in addition maintaining contact with both parents when children live in separated or divorced households.

The movement of children for contact purposes remains classed as essential travel, emphasising the importance of maintaining child contact, despite Covid-19.

Children law solicitors say that the government advice on child contact is one consistent throughout Covid-19 namely that parents need to work together for the benefit of their children and maintain child contact.

In the best cases of parents working in tandem there have been examples of parents coming together to change contact arrangements for the benefit of their children. For example:

  • One parent transporting the children to contact in their car so the children are not collected for contact by the other parent who has to use public transport
  • Contact by zoom or video call where one parent is having to self-isolate so can't have their normal contact with the children
  • The temporary cessation of direct contact if a parent deems their key worker role means that they are at risk of passing on Covid-19 if their child or the other parent has underlying health issues, such as severe asthma.

From a children law solicitors’ point of view Covid-19 has brought out the very best and sadly sometimes the worst in people and that is equally true when it comes to parental contact after separation or divorce. Some parents have used Covid-19 as an attempt to stop contact but others have used the global pandemic as an opportunity to put aside their historical communication issues and focus on keeping their children happy and safe.

CAFCASS guidance on child contact and Covid-19

As we head into winter and Covid-19 rates continue to rise with all the financial and other worries that places families under, it is worth looking at the CAFCASS guidance produced to help separated and divorced families with children.

It is important that you look at the guidance, especially before:

  • Stopping or changing child contact because of Covid-19 or
  • Starting a court application for a child arrangements order or
  • Applying to court to enforce a contact order.

In summary, CAFCASS recommends that:

  • Normal children routines are maintained. For example, meal times and contact time with parents
  • Children should only not continue in their contact routine if there is good reason to change it. As an example, children law solicitor Angelique Holm gives the situation of changing child contact transport arrangements or changing the time of contact so that a severely asthmatic child doesn’t travel on public transport during rush hours
  •  If there is a child arrangements order in place then the court order should be followed by the parents unless there are genuine concerns that the court order is no longer in a child’s best interests because of Covid-19. As an example, children law solicitor Angelique Holm says an order that allows the child to be taken abroad on holiday each year to a country where Covid-19 is out of control and the health facilities for the child or the parent taking the child on holiday are not as adequate as in the UK. If the other parent and child want to go on holiday to see extended family overseas perhaps a compromise can be reached over increased facetime to grandparents based overseas or a longer holiday to see them once there is a vaccine for Covid-19 or the infection rates are under more control
  • If parents agree that an existing child arrangements order needs to be changed then the child and the parent who is accepting the changes need to be reassured that the new contact arrangement is only a temporary measure because of Covid-19
  • Both parents should be consistent with children who are living in a separated or divorced family. For example, both parents observing safe distancing and hand washing so the child isn’t confused about different rules in the two households or worried that one parent will get Covid-19 as they aren’t practising social distancing.

Online children and family law solicitors

If you need help with seeing your children or with sorting out child contact then the children and family law team of specialist children law lawyers at OTS Solicitors are here to advise you on how best to reach a resolution over child contact and to answer with your children law questions. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our ONLINE ENQUIRY FORM so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you.

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