Separated families and COVID-19

24th April 2020
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Image: Advocate Nicholas Le Quesne

Many separated families are managing to deal with the lockdown and changes to seeing their children by agreement. However, some parents are exploiting the situation and unreasonably reducing or stopping contact. Some people shut down when they are scared and they try to protect their loved ones as best they can, but in this case, unless there are genuine reasons for stopping or changing contact then they could be damaging their children more by acting in this way.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, head of the family courts in England and Wales, and due to be the key note speaker at Corbett Le Quesne’s Jersey International Family Law Conference on October 2nd 2020, says that children should continue to visit parents they do not live with as long as both households are healthy.

The guidance from the Government of Jersey is that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes, as long as they are satisfied it is not going to put children at risk. We have seen situations where contact with one parent has stopped because they or their new partner works in a hospital for example. There is a level of discretion in determining what is the best thing to do, but parents should try to reach agreement where possible.

Sir Andrew is particularly focusing on parents who are “acting in a cynical and opportunistic manner” which he says is “wrong” and he warns that people ignoring court orders could end up facing legal action.

Our advice for separated families during this pandemic would be as follows:

  1. With regard to handovers, practise social distancing while travelling, transfer the children in open spaces and avoid any unnecessary interaction between parents/households;
  2. Contact your GP if you have concerns about your child’s health or the effect that your current living situation may have on your child’s health;
  3. Be honest with the other parent if you fall ill with coronavirus symptoms, the child may then need to stay within the household of the affected party to avoid infecting the other parent or not having contact with the ill parent, depending on the circumstances;
  4. Where contact with one parent is not taking place, consider video calls rather than phone calls as well as online games and activities such as Durrell’s “Stay Home Gorillas” or simply read a story to your child;
  5. Be flexible and accommodate changes to contact schedules due to unforeseen circumstances;
  6. Do not breach court orders with regard to child maintenance, if you are struggling to pay maintenance attempt to agree a variation to the order between yourselves and then ask a lawyer to file a “consent order” with the Court seeking the Court’s blessing with regard to that change. It may be that you can agree to defer some of your maintenance payments to a later date or seek Government support.
  7. If you have concerns about a child or family’s safety, or need some support, call the Children and Families Hub on 519000.

There are cases where contact has and will be justifiably curtailed as a result of this pandemic. However, such cases should be dealt with sympathetically and collaboratively by the parents with a view to protecting the emotional and physical health of the child.

Nicholas Le Quesne is an Advocate, English solicitor and qualified collaborative lawyer at specialist family law firm Corbett Le Quesne founded by Advocate Barbara Corbett and Advocate Nicholas Le Quesne in 2017.

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