How will the Covid-19 pandemic affect my contact?
Due to the importance of following government advice to #stayathome in the fight against the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic our daily lives and routines have been changed beyond recognition. For separated parents one aspect of this may well be in relation to the contact they usually enjoy with their children. Here, Carrie Stewart will look at what impact the current restrictions and regulations might have on your contact arrangements.
On 28th March 2020 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 came into force. The Regulations implement restrictions on movement aimed to help slow the spread of Coronavirus and make law the guidance previously issued by the government that we should only leave our homes for very limited reasons, the main ones being as follows:-
— To get basis necessities including food and medical supplies
— To take exercise alone or with members of your household
— To seek medical assistance
— To provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
— To travel to work if it is not possible to work from home
The Regulations do however create an exception when it comes to contact arrangements. It is made clear that normal contact arrangements CAN continue and where parents do not live in the same household, children under the age of 18 CAN be moved between their parents’ homes.
It should be noted however that this exception does not mean that children MUST be moved. Both parents should try and work together to adopt a common-sense approach in deciding whether contact can safely take place in the current circumstances. Any health risks to the child, the parent or any other members of each household will need to be carefully assessed as well as the practicalities of safe hand-over. It may well be that the difficult decision will have to be jointly made to suspend direct contact for a period of time. If this is the case, the reasons for this should be discussed in an age appropriate manner with the child and they should be reassured that things will go back to normal soon.
What if we decide that normal contact cannot continue?
If direct contact cannot take place other arrangements must be put in place. The Prime Minister referred to how the “wizardry of modern technology” can be of benefit at this time and the options available for co-parents and children to have continuing, meaningful contact are endless – Face-Time, Zoom, Skype, Houseparty to name just a few. There is no reason why the non-resident parent cannot read a bedtime story, help with work sent home from school, play games and so on.
What if I want contact to continue but my ex-partner disagrees?
Undoubtedly in some cases this dispute will arise. As stated above it is not the case that children must move between homes. The Courts have issued guidance which states that if one parent does not believe that contact can take place safely, they may exercise their parental responsibility to vary the usual arrangements and suspend contact. In these circumstances the Court will expect regular contact to be maintained remotely as outlined above.
All parents should be aware that the Court may be asked to consider their decisions and actions in relation to contact after this event. If the Court believes that one parent has not acted sensibly or reasonably this may be reflected in the making of further orders and any missed contact may have to be “made-up”. It is important to remember that it is simply not acceptable to use the current pandemic as an excuse to suspend all forms of contact.
These are undoubtedly challenging times for all of us. Our children have also been taken out of their routine and may well be feeling frightened and confused. Co-parents must try and work collaboratively and in their children’s best interests to safely achieve the best possible contact arrangements in these difficult circumstances.
At Thomas Taggart & Sons we are following government advice to #stayathome in order to protect our staff, families and clients and our office is closed. We are continuing to advise and assist clients by working remotely from home and should you require any assistance in relation to the issues arising from this article Carrie Stewart can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.