Anthony Jones is head of Family Law at O’Donnell Solicitors and here are his top tips on navigating co-parenting during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we are all living our lives. With the majority of us staying in our homes for the vast majority of the time, our normal day to day routines have been cast aside as we adjust to social distancing and restrictions on our movement. But what about the routines relating to child contact between separated or divorced parents?
We have received an increase in enquiries from parents in relation to both child contact and maintenance payments. Here are our top tips on navigating co-parenting during this difficult time.
In many cases, the relationship between separated parents is fragile and anything that places extra pressure on the situation, such as COVID-19, can result in further strain.
Our first piece of advice is to try and talk to your ex-partner, attempting to work out a plan between yourselves. This may seem like a hurdle too far for some couples, but try to look at the bigger picture and keep the interests of the children in mind.
In some situations, such as if a household or individual is in self-isolation due to showing symptoms of the virus, contact may not be possible. In these circumstances, technology can be extremely useful and it should be agreed between co-parents that they will facilitate video and telephone calls as much as possible.
Agree a ‘new normal’
From school closures to working from home and everything in between, the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought changes to all of our lives and circumstances and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Due to all of these changes, parents may find it difficult to stick to their usual arrangements and in these circumstances, they should aim to agree on a ‘new normal’ between themselves where possible. For some co-parents, this may mean having to agree to reduced contact – perhaps due to work commitments as a key worker, or due to geographical distance between your two homes. Although this may be difficult, the first priority should be the welfare of the children – both in terms of their mental and physical health and ensuring they receive the care and attention they need. Where parents do agree to reduced contact, a date should be set to review this, and an agreement made that this time is ‘made up’ at a future date.
Complying with court orders
For many parents, their paramount concern during these times will be the safety and health of their children and families. However, some parents have been reported as using the Coronavirus outbreak as a means of refusing contact with their fellow co-parent. The government clarified the situation on this, confirming that complying with ongoing arrangements or court orders regarding child contact/custody, including children staying at both parents’ homes, is allowed within the lockdown restrictions, providing it is not exposing the child to any risk of infection.
Separated parents of children under 18 may have an arrangement regarding child maintenance payments in place. The financial impact of coronavirus, with many staff being furloughed, forced to take pay reductions or even losing their jobs, it may reach a point where these payments become difficult to make. Where you have experienced a drop in income or lost your job, it may be possible to agree to a reduced child maintenance payment with your ex-partner. Where the maintenance payment was put in place by the court, it will be necessary to apply to the court to seek a reduction or pause on these payments.
Seek legal advice
Unfortunately, there may be situations in which co-parents are not able to agree on a way forward. Consulting a family law solicitor car help to pave the way to reaching an agreement outside of court. Where disagreements remain, or one party is still not abiding with their obligations, the Family Court is still operating, albeit in a different way. Remote hearings are taking place by telephone, video conferencing and email and our family law solicitors are therefore still able to take on new matters and progress proceedings as necessary.
O’Donnell Solicitors are offering virtual consultations by phone or video call for anyone needing family law or divorce advice and all clients during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
For more local advice visit: https://aroundsaddleworth.co.uk/