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COVID-19 and support

Child contact and coronavirus: answers to common questions

Over the past weeks, the measures against coronavirus have led us to make dramatic changes to our routines. Under these unprecedented circumstances, it is understandable that you may feel anxious about child contact arrangements and what this might mean for you and your children.

In this blog 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.

We also know that things are rapidly changing, so we will keep reviewing and updating this information as we hear more.

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

It is important to remember that court orders are legally binding, which means that breaching an order could bring consequences for you. The current situation may make it challenging to fully comply with child contact arrangements. However, the recommendation is that these should continue if possible and reasonable.

The Scottish Courts have recently published guidance on complying with family court orders during coronavirus. They emphasise that contact arrangements should remain as they are, unless you and your ex-partner agree to change them during the pandemic.

We understand each situation is different and contact arrangements will vary from child to child. This is why, if you already have a solicitor, we recommend you to get in touch with them to ask about what you can do in your situation.

If you don’t have a solicitor, you can get in touch with 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 UK government has said that children under 18 years old can continue to travel between households as part of contact arrangements. This means that contact can continue during the ‘lockdown’. Of course this will depend on your individual situation.

The Scottish Courts have also said that parents can make changes to keep their children safe while the pandemic is ongoing.

If you are able to, speak with your ex-partner to agree an alternative solution that works for both, or ask a solicitor to assist you with this.

For example, you could reduce the number of days your child travels between households; make sure you travel by car or foot rather than taking public transport when meeting the other parent; and even use video calls or telephone if direct contact is not possible. Above all, you should consider the safety of your child.

All of these are simply options you could explore and it may be that there are other safe options that might work better for your situation. If you agree any changes, it is important that you record this on a note, email or text message.

If you cannot reach agreement and you think that facilitating contact would be against government guidance, then you can change the contact arrangement for the child’s safety.

We would suggest that, if direct contact is not possible, that you keep the other parent updated about the child’s health and wellbeing (either directly or through solicitors) and if possible that you 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: keep in mind that you should be able to justify any changes you make in Court (see question 6 for more details).

3. I’m worried that our contact arrangements will put my children at risk of infection, what can I do?

It is understandable to be worried about the risk of infection at these uncertain times. This could be because you are concerned that your children might get infected if they move between households; because you or the other parent live with or are in the ‘at risk’ group; or because you or the other parent might need to self-isolate if either becomes unwell.

As mentioned above, the most practical thing to do is to communicate clearly with your ex-partner and try to agree an alternative solution. If you come to an agreement, make sure to record this on a note, email or text message.

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree on alternative arrangements and you think that contact would go against government ‘stay at home’ guidance, then you can modify the arrangements by, for example, refusing to take the child to your ex-partner's home and instead allowing video or phone calls with your child. It is important that you can justify any changes you make in Court (read question 6 for more details).

However, please remember that this is general guidance and so it might apply differently to each individual. Again, before making changes, get in touch with your solicitor or contact our legal helpline for advice.

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 on self-isolation (7 days for the person showing symptoms and 14 days for 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?

As we have mentioned throughout this blog, it is always best to try to agree alternative contact arrangements with the other parent during the COVID-19 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.

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

  • Think whether the changes you are making are reasonable, safe and that they are the best decision for the wellbeing of your child
  • Communicate any changes to your ex-partner as soon as you can, explaining why you have taken the decision
  • Record the changes in a note, email or text message for future reference.

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

Most family court hearings have been postponed and the length of the delay will depend on the individual court. However, some hearings will take place if they are considered urgent and essential. What constitutes ‘urgent’ will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

If you want to find out whether your child contact hearing will go ahead, 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 outbreak, 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, below are some resources that can help you consider other practical steps in relation to child contact during the pandemic:

  • Rights of Women (an organisation for women in England and Wales) have written a thorough guide on child contact during the pandemic, including issues to consider when making alternative contact arrangements. Bear in mind that the law in England and Wales is different, and this information might not apply in the same way in Scotland.
  • 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. We now also offer urgent legal appointments if you need to discuss your case in more detail.

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