Deborah Baker, Family law partner with Wollens Solicitors prepares a few short articles to look at how we deal with family issues during lockdown.
In part 3 Deborah looks at children matters during lockdown.
Where parents are living in different households, the Government has clarified the advice on how to approach co-parenting.
Children under 18 whose parents are living apart can move between the homes of their parents, in an exception to the mandatory stay-at-home rule for us all. But this does not mean children should move around without weighing up what is best – such as the health of all concerned, the risk of infection and how and where any handover takes place. If one parent is a key worker, then it may be sensible for the other parent to look after children, to reduce infection risks.
And if, for any reason, a child will not spend their scheduled time with one parent, the courts expect regular contact to be maintained through other means, such as FaceTime or Skype.
Importantly, any variation to current arrangements should be agreed between you, and put in writing wherever possible, whether a letter, email or simply a text exchange. Guidance says that “the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the stay-at-home rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family”.
Where there is a disagreement on arrangements, then seek advice. Whether for enforcement or to apply for a change to the contact arrangements, court hearings are continuing, although the default is via phone or video link.
The most important thing for children is that parents avoid conflict. Movie stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore may have divorced 20 years ago, but they are exemplary co-parents – even sharing lockdown time together with their adult children in California.
In her recent autobiography Moore wrote that it wasn’t easy at first “but we managed to move the heart of our relationship, the heart of what created our family, into something new that gave the girls a loving, supportive environment with both parents. We felt more connected than we did before the divorce.”
That’s a great position to be in, but for those who struggle to emulate such an example while going through a breakdown, it’s important that you do all you can to avoid weaponising disputes and that you keep arguments away from children.
China experienced a surge in reported domestic abuse during the lockdown, a factor unfortunately being reflected in the UK according to early reports, so while it may be a very hard call to make, in the current situation it’s more important than ever that you seek support from your professional adviser or the police if abuse is taking place.
For those where there is no physical risk, it’s still important to act if you need help, so don’t sit on it. Reaching out to your adviser and receiving some impartial support may be just enough to keep things on a more even keel while we continue through the lockdown.
If things have gone too far to be resolved, then receiving advice on what is feasible and how to approach conflict could make all the difference. You may not be able to speak on the phone or video conference if you are in lockdown with your partner, but having an email exchange with your adviser, or a live chat on social media like WhatsApp or Messenger, can bridge the gap during the current crisis. Lawyers at Wollens will continue to make themselves available to their clients in whatever way is needed in the current crisis and beyond.