What impact does self isolation have upon contact between a child and an absent parent?
This question has been at the forefront of separated parents’ minds ever since the ‘lockdown’, and more so since one Government Minister sent out conflicting messages. Thankfully the message is now clear :-
Coronavirus or not – children are entitled to see the absent parent.
They are amongst the exceptions. As the Government has stated when specifically addressing the issue:-
…while children should not normally be moving between households, we recognise that this may be necessary when children who are under 18 move between separated parents.
Contact should go ahead, as before. However, as with all our conduct at this time, much is left up to the discretion of individual parents.
The coronavirus is still a factor, as the paramount consideration in determining any question relating to children will be their welfare. In considering their welfare, the courts have regard to any harm which the child is at risk of suffering.
All of this has developed so quickly and no two days are the same. Consequently the law struggles to keep up.
The President of the family Division of the High Court has stated that that whilst children could be moved between homes to facilitate contact, it did not mean that all necessarily would.
Discretion is clearly key as the President has recognised that whilst one parent may think it perfectly safe for contact to take place, the other may be genuinely worried about this.
This is particularly the case where one parent feels that moving their child would be against public health advice. In such circumstances they may exercise their parental responsibility to vary the arrangement to one they consider safe.
Alas, there is no ‘back and white’ answer because each case and each situation differs as to how it relates to a particular child’s welfare and the impact the virus has on each individual family.
The full guidance has been given by the President of the Family Division and a mercifully brief account can be found here:-
The best advice is to be practical.
For many children, the brief elation of seeing their 6 week holiday extended to 12, has given way to concern and fear upon hearing ,’…many will lose loved ones etc’.
The last thing they need is to have that compounded by uncertainty over contact. And even if parents take little heed of this advice, they need not look to the courts for help – as of midnight on the 23rd of March guidance was issued that you should not attend a Family Court, in person.
Some hearings are going ahead by conference calls, but realistically the virus will be passed before you get into court.
It is at a time like this that the virtues of the amicable or collaborative approach can clearly be seen.
There will be no ‘winners’ if parents can not work together at this time. Worse still the biggest ‘losers’ will be the children when they have sufficient to contend with.
About Nigel Winter
Nigel is a family Partner at DMH Stallard, practising in all areas of family law, collaborative law, and contested ancillary relief proceedings (disputes concerning the division of assets on divorce). He joined the firm when it merged with Rawlison Butler in September 2017.
Nigel’s particular expertise covers collaborative law, contested litigation (particularly the division of assets), pre-nuptial and cohabitation agreements, divorce and children disputes.