What is the Guidance for Separated Parents in the Coronavirus Crisis?
UK family lawyers have been inundated with calls from separated parents confused about how to manage child contact during the Coronavirus crisis.
As an addition to our Coronavirus guidance to social workers, this post will give the most up to date guidance available for separated families along with specialist advice from DV-ACT experts.
Separated Parenting During This Crisis
When the UK government Coronavirus measures came into force on Monday 23 March they seemed to have forgotten about children who split their time between separated parents. Although the government then added to its advice on social distancing advising that children could travel between homes it still left parents with many questions about how this should be arranged and when it should or should not apply. Subsequent guidance was then issued by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division at the high court, answering a number of those questions but it was still very broad which may not have given an answer to cases that were particularly complex, particularly where domestic abuse has been an issue.
The majority of separated parents are simply concerned for the safety of their children and wider family members with little clear specific guidance on how they should safely manage their existing contact orders. At a difficult time when schools are closed and parents jobs and finances have been put under considerable pressure the issue of contact has led to arguments and an increase in requests for further court orders to settle disputes.
“The country is in the middle of a Public Health crisis on an unprecedented scale. The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time.” The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice
What should separated parents do?
DV-ACT experts have decades of experience in families affected by domestic abuse giving expert advice to local authorities and the family court both as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses. Using that experience we have put together the following guidelines on how separated parents can manage child contact during this crisis:
1. Know the facts - Rather than looking for answers on social media examine the governments guidance on social distancing directly, note that this includes the statement - 'Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 8 can be moved between their parents’ homes'
2. Examine published advice - Advice has been issued by the judiciary on compliance with family court child arrangement orders during the coronavirus crisis which has also been used to form the basis of Cafcass' advice for families - Co-parenting and child arrangements in a global pandemic.
3. Aim to act "reasonably and sensibly" - Where possible the parents should try to act together to come up with a sensible way forward, this should be done online, ideally through messaging or email to avoid the chance of escalating conflict. Parents could consider mediation at this time which is being offered by National Family Mediation using online video consultations.
4. Assess the risk - When looking to vary contact, the safety of the children should always be the primary concern. From what we currently know about the Coronavirus, the risks posed to children, without underlying health issues, from the virus is lower than the risk from an abusive parent. Keep in mind that when looking at the risk that a perpetrator poses to their victim, past behaviour is the most reliable indicator of future behaviour.
5. Last resort - If a parent will not return a child or refuses contact unreasonably, and without offering alternatives such as phone contact, an application can still be made to the court who have put in place arrangements to continue as many hearings as possible remotely.
DV-ACT are continuing to offer assessments at this time with reduced timescales and interviews taking place remotely, please visit our post How are DV-ACT Completing Assessments During the Coronavirus Crisis?
The following are links referred to in the above guidance:
UK government guidance FAQs - Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't do
Guidance for households with possible infection - COVID-19: guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection
Courts and tribunals advice and guidance - Coronavirus (COVID-19): courts and tribunals planning and preparation
Family court guidance - Coronavirus Crisis: Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders
Cafcass guidance - COVID 19 guidance for children and families
Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.
DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do.