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At Sousa Law we are very aware that currently many parents are experiencing high levels of stress in managing their home and family lives during the COVID 19 crisis. There are immense financial, emotional and health pressures that we are all doing our best to cope with. These high levels of stress impact upon parental relationships and the ability of parents to communicate effectively, in particular in relation to their children and what is best for them during this very difficult time.
We hope that the information below will assist with the decisions parents are having to make. If you require further support or advice you can contact Sousa Law to schedule a free initial Skype/Zoom meeting or telephone appointment on 02380 713060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
On the 23rd March 2020, the Government advised that people should practice social distancing, and should stay at home to minimise the risk of spreading the Coronavirus.
This is not the case for children under 18, who are permitted to move between separated parents’ houses.
Ultimately, it is the choice of both parents with parental responsibility as to whether it is safe for a child or children to move between the homes of separated parents. However, the health and vulnerability of the child, parents and others in each household should be taken into consideration. The use of public transport should be avoided where possible, and social activities should not take place.
If one parent thinks it is safe for contact to go ahead, it is reasonable and justifiable for the other parent to disagree, and be worried about the consequences of this contact, especially if they believe that this would be against the current Government and Public Health England advice.
In circumstances like these, communication between parents is vital. Together, parents should decide the most safe and sensible methods of contact, whilst trying to keep tension and conflict to a minimum. OurFamilyWizard is a useful tool to enable parents to communicate safely and effectively by use of an app www.ourfamilywizard.co.uk
Should you consider it unsafe to communicate directly with the other parent, or indeed communication has broken down to a level where you cannot agree what is in the best interests of your child or children a trusted third party can help, without the need for the involvement of the Court. This third party can take the form of a Family Consultant, a Mediator, a Solicitor or an Arbitrator. All of these services can be accessed by telephone, Skype, Zoom or other remote methods.
At Sousa Law we can discuss with you all of the options available to resolve the difficulties you may be experiencing in respect of your children and will explore all of the non-Court options with you first.
In some circumstances sadly a Court application may be the only way forward. You can still make applications to the Court either for a new Order, or to enforce Orders. Court hearings are also being conducted remotely by telephone, Skype, Zoom. Specialist advice should be taken before making such applications as to whether the application is likely to be successful, particularly during the national COVID 19 crisis.
During this time, a Child Arrangements Order may be temporarily varied by you and the other parent if you are acting in agreement. The spirit of the Order should still be adhered to, and any agreements should be in child’s best interests. We strongly recommend that you keep a record of the agreement by a text or email exchange and make it clear that the changes only apply during the lockdown period. The agreement can be recorded through solicitors if you consider something more formal should be in place.
If you and the other parent are not in agreement as to the method of contact, or the variation of the Child Arrangements Order, parental responsibility can be exercised by one parent if you believe that any existing or alternative arrangements are not in line with current Government or Public Health England Advice. At a later date, the Family Court may question each parents’ actions, and will consider whether they acted safely and responsibly in light of Government and Official Advice, alongside any medical evidence relating to the child or people in each household.
If contact has been stopped or limited by yourself or the other parent, alternative arrangements for contact between the affected parent and child should be put in place urgently to maintain a sense of normality and routine for the children. This could mean proceeding with contact as ordered through apps such as Skype, Zoom, Facetime, or WhatsApp video calls, or by telephone call if video chats are not accessible.
Each Contact Centre has different measures put in place during this time. We recommend looking at your Contact Centre’s website for more details about how they can assist you in maintaining contact with your child during the lockdown.
Chances Gives Choices are offering video call supervised contact. More information can be found on their website www.chancesgiveschoices.com
The physical and mental health of your child will of course be a priority during this time. Many children may be experiencing anxiety due to the uncertainty and disruption to their normal routines. They will depend on you for support and comfort: you should reassure children that they can talk to you about anything.
Children may also be concerned or frightened by the news they may hear on the radio, watch on television, or see on social media. Keep discussions with your children open and honest, and debunk any myths or false information surrounding the virus. Allow them to watch child focussed news such as Newsround or other information programmes on Children’s TV.
To maintain a sense of stability in your child’s life, normal daily routines should be adhered to as much as possible. This could include doing school assigned work during the day, and keeping the same mealtimes, bed times, morning routines and extracurricular activities like reading before bed, and playing games and doing sports in the garden. As usual social activities like birthday parties and family get-togethers are not taking place, video calling friends and family will allow your child to stay connected and maintain relationships with those important to them.
It is crucial that you do not denigrate or speak negatively about the other parent in the presence of your child, and you should not discuss any Court issues with, or in front of your child. You should be particularly aware of this if you are having a remote consultation with CAFCASS, a social worker, your solicitor or indeed a Court Hearing by phone or video conference.
At the beginning of April, the Government clarified that those that have a learning disability or autism are allowed to leave their house more than once a day for exercise, and may travel further than their local area if it is beneficial to one’s health.
The slightly more relaxed exercise rules will come as good news parents that have a child with a learning disability or autism, as somewhat normal routines may be maintained, and families can have a much-deserved break from being cooped up in the house.
Sousa Law are specialist Family Solicitors in Southampton. We are committed to offering a helping hand during these difficult times. For further information or advice, please call our office on 02380 713060 email email@example.com to book a free initial appointment with a solicitor.
by Alice Palermo and Catherine Sousa
Useful links regarding Children and Coronavirus:
by Alice Palermo and Catherine Sousa
Family Lawyer Southampton, Family Solicitor Southampton, Divorce Lawyer Southampton, Divorce Solicitor Southampton
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