Coronavirus and Court Orders for contact with children
18 May 2020
The Coronavirus crisis and the lock-down measures have thrown up all sorts of problems, and one which we deal with frequently is what should parents do when there is in place a Court Order specifying that children should spend time with one parent or the other, and there are real worries about whether that Order should or will be complied with on account of the virus.
What is the problem?
It can take various forms:
- The child or children concerned are showing symptoms of the virus, are self-isolating, are classed by the NHS as vulnerable or have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
- Someone in their household fits in to one of those categories.
- One or more in the other parent's household falls in to one of those categories.
What is the answer?
The starting point is that Court Orders, whether made by agreement or otherwise, need to be complied with. Parents cannot normally choose whether they comply with Orders or not.
BUT, if there is a real possibility of a child's health being put at risk, and if varying the arrangements set out in the Court Order cannot be agreed, a parent can use their own judgment or common sense to decide what is best and what is safe for that child exercising what in legal terms is known as their "Parental responsibility".
If, at some later stage, what that parent decides is called in to question by the other parent, a Judge is going to look into whether both parents acted sensibly and reasonably, and if they followed medical advice and whatever Government guidelines were in place at the time.
So, what should parents in these circumstances do?
A few brief guidelines are:
- Talk to and communicate with the other parent all the time.
- Always make sure they know what is going on; for example, explain what the concerns are, what the medical advice is.
- Try your best to find a solution which is best for the child or children concerned.
- Suggest other ways of contact taking place, for example, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, telephone.
- Try and make arrangements so that the time "lost" by face to face contact not taking place can be made up later.
- Speak to the G.P. or NHS 111.
- Keep a record of what is said, for example e-mail trails, and notes of medical advice.
- Remember that no matter how well or how badly you get on as parents, this is not about you but about your children.
- Always put the child or children first.
Even in this lockdown, family lawyers are available on the phone or by video-link and the Courts are still working if it is necessary to get an Order altered or enforced.
Most of all don't worry. Get advice.