Coronavirus poses a serious risk to the health of our loved ones. But there are additional worries:
- Can you see your children
- Will your Court case go ahead
- Money worries – some action you can take
- Domestic abuse and domestic violence
Time to consult an experienced family lawyer – we can assist you with remote advice by phone or Skype. In the meantime I will answer some of your most urgent questions in this blog. But first, a reminder of the coronavirus rules.
How to stay safe and reduce the spread of infection
The Government has issued social distancing rules to limit the spread of coronavirus:
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
- Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
- Wash your hands as soon as you get home
You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms. Those at increased risk of severe illness are advised to be particularly stringent. This group includes those who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition – a list of these conditions is here.
For those with possible coronavirus in their household
Here are the stay at home rules.
Should you send your children for contact? Can you see your children?
You have a Court order or an agreement setting out the child arrangements. This sets out the contact routine, or that the children live part of the time with you, part of the time with their other parent. The Government says: Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. This doesn’t mean children must move between parents’ homes, it just means they can.
In normal times, no one should break a Court order, and if they do, the other parent can ask the Court to enforce it. The Court may agree there was a ‘reasonable excuse’ for breaching the order. But otherwise the penalties are unpaid work, compensation, fines etc. However if you both act in good faith and do your best to reach a sensible arrangement in the current crisis, the Court is unlikely to object.
But what if someone has coronavirus symptoms
If either household has a member with coronavirus symptoms, then the stay at home rules apply. Try to reach a common sense agreement between you. For example, during the fourteen day quarantine period have contact with the children by FaceTime, Skype, or phone instead.
What if someone is vulnerable
If someone in either household is in a vulnerable category, you need to protect them against infection. This could mean the children can’t move between households safely. Make alternative arrangements, for example contact by FaceTime, Skype, or phone. This is hard, I know, but taking this precaution could literally save someone’s life. This is a particularly tricky area. Consult an experienced family lawyer.
Remote contact with a young child – how to make it work
How about each household having a stock of age appropriate books, games, art materials, crafts. This will help make remote contact a constructive and creative play session for younger children.
One or both of you may now have full time child care responsibilities, and be struggling to work at home. You may be unable to travel on public transport because you fear infection. Try to rethink your arrangement for as long as the crisis lasts. For example, alter the arrangements for transporting the children to and from contact. If you can’t agree this between you, consider mediation (which can be offered remotely) or collaborative law.
What can I do during contact visits
Obey the social distancing rules: stay indoors with the children.
Try to adapt amicably
The top rule in dealing with child contact at the moment is to come to an amicable agreement: try to smooth things over, stay calm, find a middle ground – if only in the interests of the children.
If you’re worried about debt, take a look at StepChange. If you’re worried about your job and wages, take a look at the guidance for employees on gov.uk. If you’re self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income, take a look at guidance on gov.uk.
If the paying parent’s salary evaporates because of the current crisis, they will need to inform the Child Maintenance Service and be reassessed. If you have agreed payments between yourselves, perhaps you could agree a lesser amount, or a payment holiday, on a temporary basis. This is a difficult time for both households, you’re both facing unusual financial challenges. Try to agree something if you can. Otherwise consult an experienced family lawyer and/or consider mediation (by Skype) or collaborative law.
Similarly with maintenance paid by one former spouse to another. If there’s a Court order, you must keep to it, and make an application to the Court for a variation order. If you don’t keep the maintenance payments going, your ex can make an application to the Court for an enforcement order, which can include payment of the arrears. In these financially precarious times, consult an experienced family lawyer and/or consider mediation (by Skype) or collaborative law.
Court hearings about the children or the family finances or domestic violence
The Court wants all family hearings to go ahead and most will go ahead remotely with the use of technology. The Court has issued guidance, COVID 19: National guidance for the Family Court 19th March 2020 with the aim to “keep business going safely“. Hearings should be by email, telephone, video or Skype if at all possible. This will be a learning curve for the Courts and will take a week or two to settle down.
The guidance covers how to arrange telephone and video hearings. There is a list of the type of hearings that must now go ahead remotely. The guidance lists who is responsible for making the arrangements for the remote hearing. A Court bundle must be submitted – a PDF by email.
If it’s not clear whether your hearing can go ahead remotely, it will be necessary to have a remote directions hearing. This hearing will make the necessary plans.
If you are the victim of domestic abuse or violence, the Courts and the police are there to protect you. Here are some things you can do right now:
- If you ever feel in immediate danger, contact 999 immediately
- Domestic abuse or violence is a crime and you should report it to the police. Various organisations offer help and support. The gov.uk site has a list with links
- Phone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, or visit their website
- Consult a family solicitor in strictest confidence. You may need the protection of a Court injunction:
- A non molestation injunction prohibits an abuser from using or threatening violence against you, or harassing, pestering or intimidating you. The police can arrest the abuser if they breach the order
- An occupation order will say who can live in the family home or enter the surrounding area
Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc
Contact Family Lawyer Joanne Houston on 01962 217640 for an initial consultation on Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc. In this 20 minute session she will review your situation and how you can achieve your objectives.
The topics covered in this blog post Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc are complex. They are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog apply to you, seek expert legal advice.
image for Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc, A woman looking out the window (Unsplash) by Kate Williams on Wikimedia