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Maria Steele-Williams

Associate and Senior Legal Executive - Brighton & Hove and Uckfield

24th April 2020

How the Courts are supporting families and arrangements for children in separated households during Covid-19

After a “own goal” from the government on breakfast television there was of course a swift reversal of the initial advice given by Mr Gove, who had indicated that children whose parents are separated or divorced should not move between households, to visit the other parent.

This “faux pas” was of course quickly rectified by the time that Mr Gove spoke to the BBC later the same morning, when he made it clear that children could travel between their separated parents’ households so long as it was safe to do so.

Unfortunately, there are some parents who have used the Covid-19 lockdown as an excuse to frustrate contact arrangements for their children and not behave in the “spirit” of any existing agreements or indeed Court Orders.

Some parents have gone as far as to suggest that the children should not be left with or allowed to visit the other parents’ home because that parent is a frontline NHS worker thereby suggesting that the frontline parent poses a higher risk to the children (if that logic was followed through all NHS and frontline workers would have their children immediately removed from their care).

Such a suggestion shows that some parents are not only doing whatever they can to go against the spirit of the guidance from the government and indeed the Courts, but unfortunately in some circumstances are jumping on some kind of irrational bandwagon to frustrate childrens’ relationships with their parents.

The Courts have made it clear that if there is a real danger which is posed by the children travelling to a separated parent’s home which would pose a risk to the child’s welfare, then such arrangements should be suspended during the Covid19 lockdown and other means of contact should be provided in its place i.e. Skype/Zoom contact.

However, if there is not a genuine risk and the matter is brought before the Court, the Court is not likely to show sympathy to the parent who has frustrated the arrangements for the children to see the other parent.

Emergency applications are being made to the Court and the Family Courts are still open to deal with those emergency applications. On the 9 April 2020 the Lord Chief Justice, issued a communication making it clear that the decision whether or not a hearing relating to children matters should proceed, on a remote basis and if so, in what format, is a matter for the allocated Judge.

The guidance was issued not as a Directive but to help the Courts make decisions as to how and in what format to deal with urgent children cases. However, there is a Directive which has made it clear to the Courts that whilst the Covid19 restrictions remain in place, children cases must be given priority (along with domestic abuse injunction and other urgent applications). The Courts have been swift to adapt to the current circumstances imposed by the Covid-19 restrictions, the Courts have dealt with hearings by way of telephone hearings wherever appropriate and the Courts are working rapidly towards rolling out a cloud video platform.

If you are a parent who has been denied contact with your children or your children have failed to be returned to you after contact during the lockdown, you should seek urgent legal advice.

We are here to help

If you require advice and assistance please contact Maria Steele-Williams at our Hove/Uckfield/Sevenoaks offices on 01273 329797/07808641625 e. mariasteelewilliams@rixandkay.co.uk or Janet Raeburn at our Uckfield/Seaford offices on 01825 761555 e. janetraeburn@rixandkay.co.uk

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