Amidst the chaos and confusion caused by the Coronavirus and the sudden increase in social restrictions, existing co-parenting arrangements are highly likely to be disrupted. What can separated parents do to protect hard-won contact arrangements and to make sure their families get through this difficult time as smoothly (and safely) as possible?
Perhaps you’re worried that your children’s lives will feel even more unsettled at the moment, or that their relationship with the other parent may be damaged. You may be in a position where you’re unable to maintain the agreed levels of contact due to self-isolation, at-risk dependents or work. Whatever your situation, there are several things you can do both on a practical level and to gain a sense of control, which is so important during periods of uncertainty.
Communication is key
Reassure your children that both their parents are doing everything to keep them happy and safe. If they know that you’re working together and have agreed on any changes to the contact routine, this will help reduce any feelings of anxiety. Try to be as supportive of each other as possible in order to minimise the impact this could have on your children’s relationships with you and the other parent.
Follow government advice
Though this seems to be changing daily, it’s vital that you act according to government advice. If you and your children are self-isolating because you’re suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 – or protecting yourselves and high-risk family members – then you need to communicate this to the parent whose contact will be affected. It’s also a good idea to confirm how long the self-isolation or no-contact period will last.
Consider the risks
Children under the age of 18 who are normally moved between two homes can continue to do so. However, though it can be tempting (or necessary) to continue with normal arrangements, it’s important to consider the risks that moving your children will pose, not only to yourselves but to others. If you do need to continue sharing childcare and don’t hand over at home, settle on a designated time and a quiet place where you won’t be exposing yourselves or your children to lots of people. Remember, public gatherings of more than two people are currently prohibited. Cafés, restaurants, soft play centres and parks have also been closed. So, if contact with your child is usually supervised by another person or in public, this cannot continue during the lockdown period.
Put everything in writing
If you’re able to agree on alternative arrangements, record these in writing and review them with the other parent as circumstances change. If you’re unable to reach an agreement, this can be reviewed by the court once the social restrictions have been lifted. The court will focus on whether the spirit of any contact order in place has been maintained and that any parent withholding contact has acted sensibly and reasonably in the circumstances.
Video calls and social media are proving to be an invaluable way of keeping in touch and staying connected with each other. Even though it’s not the same as a hug or being in the same room, allowing your child to have regular contact via video or phone call with their other parent will really help communication channels stay open while ensuring that no one feels too isolated. Having a regular call time in place may also reassure your children, giving them a routine and a sense of ‘normality.’
These are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures, as well as a lot of compassion and a good dose of patience. Though it may be a challenge, making temporary adjustments to contact routines could be the most constructive way forward for you, your children and the other parent. They could help limit any emotional damage and ensure – more than anything – that you all stay safe.
Our specialist family lawyers are available to provide you with the advice and assistance you may need in these uncertain times. We can communicate with you by email, (email@example.com) mobile (07494499119) or video conference (Skype/Zoom).