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Lawyers are reporting a significant increase in inquiries about custody issues since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are concerns that the coronavirus pandemic is causing an increase in custody issues between parents who are separated or divorced, with legal experts reporting significant increases in related inquiries.
While the Government’s advice is that children under 18 can continue to visit both parents, there are reports that some parents may be using self-isolation as an excuse to stop contact while others may be genuinely worried about putting children at risk.
Lawyers say that if parents are self isolating with symptoms of coronavirus they may have to stop contact for 14 days and that the important thing is to focus on what is in the best interests of the child. Jennifer Moore, Associate Solicitor and Joanna Kay, Partner, at Rayden Solicitors in Hampstead recommend planning ahead for self-isolation situations. They say: “The key is to plan ahead for the possibility of self-isolation.”
However, if there is a suspicion that a parent may be acting unreasonably, they say that an application for a breach of a Court Order may be needed or, if no Court Order is in place, an application to obtain one may be needed. However, since going to Court is not an immediate option during the pandemic, they recommend arbitration instead.
In some cases parents say that they are worried that allowing their child to visit their ex-partner will place them at extra risk due to the job that the ex-partner does, for instance, as a frontline worker.
Paula Butterworth, Partner and qualified Children Arbitrator at Rayden Solicitors, says: “Both parents should act sensibly in making decisions regarding the safety of their child. Ideally one parent would communicate their concern to the other parent and agree a practical solution to safeguard not only the child but the wider family. It is understandable for parents to be worried and good communication is the key. If one partner works on the frontline, they would hopefully understand that this puts them at a higher risk of infection than if they are staying at home self-isolating. The decision taken will depend on the individual circumstances of the family and the level of risk they are comfortable with.
She adds: “The government guidance is that children under 18 can be moved between their parents as an exemption to the “Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others”. However, a parent who has assessed the situation and deems it too risky for a variety of reasons, including the child’s health or a vulnerable person being in the household, can make the decision that it is not in the child’s best interests to go to the other parent’s house.”
The problem is a highly sensitive one and can come down to parents disagreeing about what they feel is best for their child. Lawyers would like to see clearer guidance from government.
Moore and Kay say: “We are in extraordinary times, there are no precedents and there is no road map for separated families to navigate their way through. Parents are not clear on what the rules are. Many parents will inevitably feel incredibly conflicted; on the one hand they will be concerned their children need to see their other parent and maintain a positive and meaningful relationship with them, and on the other hand they will be concerned that facilitating contact may not be safe. Further clarity and guidance from the government on precisely when children can move between separated parents’ households, how far and by what means they can travel, and how frequently this can happen, will undoubtedly assist separated families.”