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Child contact and coronavirus: answers to common questions

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With the re-introduction of 'stay at home' measures and the highest level of lockdown restrictions across Scotland (Tier 4), it is understandable that you may feel anxious about child contact arrangements and what this might mean for you and your children.

In this page you will find general information about contact between your children and your ex-partner during the pandemic, as well as answers to common questions we’ve heard from women contacting us.

Last updated: 5 December 2021.

1. There is a court order regulating contact between my ex-partner and my children, should I follow this during the pandemic?

Yes. The Scottish Government has introduced 5 tiers of protection levels against COVID-19, and each area of Scotland will be assigned a specific level or ‘tier’ depending on the local situation (you can find out the current level of protection and restrictions in your local area here).

The recommendation is that contact arrangements should continue if possible and reasonable, regardless of the level of protection your local authority area is in.

This means that if you and your ex-partner live in separate households, your children can move between your homes, no matter what local protection area you are in.

The Scottish Courts have updated their guidance on complying with family court orders to reflect this.

It is important to remember that court orders are legally binding, so breaching an order could bring consequences for you. For separated families, this means that if there is a court order in place, you should follow the arrangements unless you and your ex-partner have agreed to an alternative.

As lockdown measures change, you may still feel uneasy about complying with child contact arrangements if your children are moving between households. This is why, if you already have a solicitor, we recommend you to get in touch with them to get advice about what to do in your situation.

If you don’t have a solicitor, call our legal helpline to discuss your case.

2. Part of my contact arrangements require that my children travel between my house and my ex-partner’s, can they still do this?

Yes. The government guidance allows travel between households when the purpose is shared parenting, and this applies regardless of the level of protection your area is in. Therefore, your children can travel between your home and your ex-partners, even if your homes are in different areas of Scotland and under different protection levels.

The above means you must comply with any contact arrangements between you and your ex-partner if possible and reasonable.

If you live a long distance away from the other parent, you might be worried about travelling to a different area of the country or abroad. In these situations, it is really important that you keep communicating with your ex-partner, when safe to do so, to find a solution that works for everyone, or contact your solicitor to negotiate alternative arrangements.

For example, you could reduce the number of times your child travels between households; make sure you travel by car or foot rather than taking public transport; if you are concerned about the risk of infection for someone in your household, you could agree to change the place where contact takes place. Above all, you should consider the safety of your child.

These are just some options you could explore and it may be that there are others that could work better for your situation. If you agree to any changes, it is important that you record this on a note, email or text message.

When contact arrangements require travel abroad, make sure to check any travel restrictions and guidelines between countries before your child’s trip.

If you cannot reach agreement and you think that facilitating contact would be against government guidance, then you can change the contact arrangements for your child’s safety. You should speak to a solicitor or call our helpline to seek legal advice if you are considering stopping contact at this time.

In this situation, you should keep the other parent updated about the child’s health and wellbeing (either directly or through solicitors) and if possible you should allow contact via telephone or video call. Remember that both parents have the responsibility to ensure their children continue to have parental contact and to protect their parental relationships.

Important: you should be able to justify any changes you make in Court (see question 6 for more details).

4. What happens with contact arrangements if my child or someone in my household becomes unwell and we have to self-isolate?

If you, your child or someone in your household develops COVID-19 symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19, you should follow government guidance and self-isolate (10 days for the person showing symptoms and other household members with no symptoms).

We anticipate that self-isolation will mean that your usual child contact arrangements will need to stop until after the self-isolation period. During this time, make sure you keep the other parent updated on the health and wellbeing of your child and try to arrange for remote contact through video call and telephone if possible and safe to do so.

5. My ex-partner is self-isolating, should contact with my child still go ahead?

In this case, it would likely be considered reasonable that you refuse contact between your ex-partner and your child as this would put your child, members of your household and you at risk of infection.

As we mentioned above, in this situation, try to find alternative and safe ways to keep contact between the other parent and your child, such as video and telephone calls.

6. I’m considering changing contact arrangements during the pandemic. Will there be legal consequences for me?

It is always best to try to agree alternative contact arrangements with the other parent during the pandemic. At the same time, we understand that this is not always possible, especially when your ex-partner has been abusive or has used contact as a way to continue the cycle of abuse.

In these cases, the guidance is that you can make changes to the contact arrangements to keep your child and your household safe. However, it is very important to remember that the other parent could challenge this decision in Court later on. The Scottish Courts are likely to check whether each parent acted reasonably according to the government guidance at that time together with any relevant evidence.

Whatever changes you make, you should make sure that they can be justified in a legal process. To help with this:

7. My child contact hearing was due to take place before the outbreak, will it still go ahead?

The Courts are now dealing with urgent and non-urgent cases. If you had a court hearing scheduled, which you missed because of the pandemic, you should contact your solicitor or the court to get an update. Some hearings will continue remotely, by video conference or telephone.

If a hearing cannot happen remotely, witnesses may be allowed to attend court but they will need to adhere to physical distancing and other guidelines for everyone’s safety. Cases involving children will be given priority.

Read our update on Scottish Courts during the pandemic to find out more about changes to how courts are working at the moment.

If you want to find out when your child contact hearing will take place, speak to your solicitor or contact your local Sheriff Court to find out more.

8. What other practical steps can I take to protect my child when complying with contact arrangements during coronavirus?

We understand that the current situation can be very stressful and uncertain, and that you are worried about your child’s welfare.

When thinking about child contact arrangements and any changes during the coronavirus pandemic, you should consider your child’s wellbeing and safety. Make sure they understand the situation and any changes you might need to make to their usual contact with the other parent.

Additionally, our legal guide on child contact and residence explains the court process for child contact, what parental rights are, and other useful information.

9. My question is not answered in this blog, where can I get help?

As a first point of contact, get in touch with your solicitor to discuss your specific situation. They will be able to work with you on potential solutions.

If you don’t have a solicitor, call our legal helpline to get advice from our solicitors or make an appointment for one of our remote legal surgeries.

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