24th March 2020
Well this isn’t an article we ever thought we would be writing, and it probably isn’t an issue that you ever thought you would be facing as a parent either.
It is certainly an unsettling and emotional time, especially if you have young children to think about but it is also a time where your co-parenting skills could be put to the test and suddenly your separation or ongoing issues you face with your ex-partner are suddenly not so prevalent. Now is the time to be on the same page as much as possible.
We would like to try and answer any questions that you may have about parenting from two houses during one of the biggest challenges the UK has ever faced.
Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove gave some further guidance saying that “children under the age of 18 can see both parents”. Although we are trying to practice social distancing, it is still expected that children should continue to have contact with both parents so as long as it is safe and sensible to do so.
In order to comply with the government messages and also give your child some consistency and contact with their other parent we would suggest that you re-evaluate your current contact plans and discuss this with your ex-partner.
It would be sensible to minimise how often you are moving between houses. Therefore, if you usually see your child several times throughout the week, have them for a few hours for tea or just at weekends then now may be the time to consider moving to blocks of time, e.g. alternate weeks at each parent’s house.
You will have to assess this based on your own circumstances. Issues such as distance, health or travel issues may need to be factored in.
If it is not suitable to move your child in-between different houses due to health issues then make sure your child has contact with their other parent via phone calls, text messages or FaceTime.
If communicating with your ex-partner has been difficult in the past, it is important to now reach an understanding that it is imperative to keep each other updated.
It is sensible to have a conversation with your ex-partner to set out what will happen in the event of a public lockdown or if someone in either household becomes ill.
Hopefully in these exceptional circumstances you will be able to put your differences aside and agree on what happens calmly and fairly with your child’s health and welfare at the forefront of your decisions.
If your relationship is strained or you find communicating with your ex-partner difficult then think about how best to approach this conversation. Is it better done over the phone? Would a parenting app be a better fit (eg Our Family Wizard or 2 Houses)? Try to remain calm, avoid raising your voice and listen to each other’s concerns.
During these unprecedented times it may not be possible to follow your usual routine. If you have a court order for contact arrangements, then be prepared for this to become more of a fluid and flexible arrangement – normally such orders allow for changes by agreement between the parties.
It is important to try to stick to normal arrangements but with guidance changing daily be ready to adapt plans. Particularly with many parents now working at home or being relied upon to continue to work if they are considered key workers, you may need to adjust your usual plans to provide childcare between you both.
This is a difficult time for your children to go through as well. Whilst they may not be sharing your exact worries, they may have concerns of their own or be feeling anxious. Lots of older children will no doubt feel emotional about not completing their GCSEs, A-Levels or Degrees. They may be concerned about what their grades will mean for their future plans or they may feel anxious about not seeing their friends and having the contact and support of their peers they are used to.
Where possible consider what is appropriate for them to be hearing in the media and be considerate about conversations that you are having in front of the children.
Make sure that both households are providing a loving and supportive environment over the coming weeks.
It is understandable to want to keep your loved ones close at this scary time, but it is important to honour agreements that you have with your ex-partner and continue to facilitate a relationship with their other parent.
You should always do what is best for your children and in a time of such upheaval with their schools and nurseries closing it is best to keep their routines as close to normality as you can. So if your children have set days or weekends where they stay with their other parent then this should continue – but balance this with the advice above about minimising too much switching between homes.
That said, you should also follow government and NHS guidelines, so if someone in your household is presenting symptoms or at high risk then you will need to individually assess your situation and do what is best for your children to keep them safe.
If you are worried about your child when they are not with you then speak to your ex-partner for reassurance. Knowing that they are going by the same precautions as you can put your mind at rest.
For the time being there is no reason why handovers between different houses shouldn’t continue as long as both households are fit and healthy and taking all the necessary precautions to keep the Covid-19 virus at bay.
You may need to be flexible with your handovers, especially if you normally collect children from school or clubs that are no longer open. If you usually handover in a public place it may be more sensible to do this from each other’s homes or somewhere quiet.
There are some minor changes that you might want to make to be extra safe at this time, for example.
If your child’s mother or father has symptoms of the virus and is self-isolating, then you must stop all contact with your child and closely monitor them. If they have been in recently contact, then you should also self-isolate your household and take all necessary precautions.
As long as you are acting responsibly, reasonably and in the best interests of your children, then breaching a contact order for the sake of prioritising the health of your children is unlikely to be an issue (although you should always seek specialist legal advice before doing so). These are considered exceptional circumstances and decisions to limit or stop contact with one parent is for the welfare of your child and other family members. The court, if faced with an application for enforcement by the other parent, is most likely to allow for some latitude at this time. It may be advisable to make a court application for a variation of the order if you need to take steps to prioritise the health of your children over contact; again, specialist legal advice should be sought on this.
If you find yourself missing out on contact with your child make sure you speak to them regularly via FaceTime or video calls. There are online games that you can play together, you can read over the phone or you could send each other letters to receive in the post. Ensure that you support and facilitate contact with your child’s other parent if they are unable to see them at this time.
Most would agree that using a global crisis to stop contact is in poor taste and as explained earlier it is in a child’s best interest to give them some continuity from both parents at a time like this.
If your ex-partner has stopped contact or is threatening to withhold contact, then it is best to try and understand exactly why. Do they have good reason? Are they concerned about health issues? Has someone in their household been in contact with someone showing symptoms? Are they suffering with anxiety? Or is it that they do not trust you to protect their children (eg a failure to adhere to social-distancing)?
Reassure your ex-spouse that you are well equipped to look after the children. Hopefully some assurance is all they need to understand the importance to maintain usual contact.
If you are having problems with seeing your children and have tried to discuss matters with no avail then please speak to one of our family solicitors who can provide you with advice and next steps.
Over the coming weeks you may find that job security is threatened, and this can impact on parent’s ability to pay child maintenance. If you have arrangements via CMS (the Child Maintenance Service) then this will be organised and adjusted accordingly. If you have a private agreement, then you or the paying partner should discuss any changes.
Whilst it may be frustrating for a parent in receipt of child maintenance to have this stopped or reduced it is important to appreciate that these difficult economic times are forcing people’s hand when it comes to a secure income.
It is always best to have these discussions calmly and with as much notice if possible, rather than springing it on the parent in receipt of payments.
The government has announced that help will be available for families that are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Check your options and entitlements via the government websites.
It is important to remember that whilst this pandemic is likely to impact us all for some time to come, this sudden change of circumstances will eventually pass and life will have to continue at some point. It is important to maintain a good co-parenting relationship so that you can continue to support your child afterwards.
If you need specific advice or guidance on child contact or separation over the coming week’s then rest assured that someone will be able to help. The Lamb Brooks Family Department continues to stay open and we will be able to help you navigate through any problems.
Call us on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to our online chat assistant who is online 24/7 via our website.
We are able to offer telephone or video call appointments to those avoiding social contact or confined to their home due to child care.
We hope to be able to provide you with some reassurance and trusted advice during these overwhelming times and urge all our clients and contact to take care and stay safe. Please keep yourself up to date with the latest government guidance.
How to Handle a Difficult Ex During Divorce
Taking Parental Alienation Seriously
Remaining Positive During the Covid-19 Pandemic
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
Lamb Brooks LLP
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