Over the past months, the measures against coronavirus have led us to make dramatic changes to our routines. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that you may feel anxious about child contact arrangements and what this might mean for you and your children.
Here 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.
Last updated: 29 September 2020.
Yes. As of July, the Government no longer requires individuals to ‘stay at home’ and the Scottish Courts have updated their guidance on complying with family court orders to reflect this.
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 alternative arrangements.
It is important to remember that court orders are legally binding, which means that breaching an order could bring consequences for you.
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 ask about what you can do in your situation. If you don’t have a solicitor, call our legal helpline to discuss your case.
Yes. The government guidance has always permitted travel between households to facilitate contact. In Scotland the ‘stay at home’ measures have been lifted and so where possible you must comply with any contact arrangements between you and your ex-partner.
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 this issue.
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. 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 to decrease the risk for that person. 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.
Remember that you should be able to justify any changes you make in Court (see question 6 for more details).
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.
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.
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.
As we have mentioned before, 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:
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.
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, our legal guide on child contact and residence explains the court process for child contact, what parental rights are, and other useful information.
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.
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