It has become clear over the last couple of weeks that every person in the country is affected in one way or another by Coronavirus and the necessary changes in the way that we live our lives. The situation is fast moving and government guidelines are being regularly updated. It is important that everybody follows the guidelines.
We have noticed that this is impacting particularly on families where parents are separated and children are being cared for sometimes by one parent and sometimes by the other. Questions are arising as to whether children should visit absent parents, what should happen if one parent is self isolating or if one parent or the child starts to display symptoms of the virus. We are already dealing with several cases where these issues have arisen and difficulties are particularly acute if there are court orders in place and if tensions between the parents are already high. Equally, it is important, in our view, that during this period children are able to spend time with both parents as far as that is consistent with government guidelines.
Since the lockdown was ordered, the situation has become more difficult. The rules give only four reasons for people (including children) to leave their homes. That is for essential shopping, exercise once a day, medical needs and attending work that they cannot do at home. There is an exception in the rules which states that children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between their parents’ homes.
The courts have themselves all but closed, and are dealing only with the most urgent of cases. In these times, it is important that parents exercise good judgement about arrangements for their children and that any contact and residence arrangements for children are worked within government guidelines. Parents must also sensibly consider the whole circumstances, including the risk of infection to the child, parents and others with whom the child might come in contact. It is desirable that parents can have sensible discussions about how childcare arrangements can best work in this new and fast moving situation.
Difficulties will arise particularly where there are court orders in place for one parent to have contact with a child. In normal circumstances if it is proposed that a contact order be departed from for medical reasons evidence of illness would be lodged with the court. It seems that in these times it may be difficult or impossible to obtain such medical evidence. Frontline medical staff are stretched to the limit and it is unclear as to how or whether testing facilities can be accessed. Parents should be mindful of the unprecedented situation in which we all find ourselves, and try to work with each other to find the best solution.
Clearly a whole other set of difficulties will arise in situations where parents live remotely from each other, but hold court orders for contact with children. We have many clients who live remotely from their children, including abroad, and this is a particularly difficult time for those children and their parents. At this time, efforts should be made for children to remain in touch with absent parents, through FaceTime, Skype etc.
It is hoped that the current situation will be short lived but on all the current evidence there seems to be no guarantee of that. If you have difficulties in this area our solicitors are able to provide advice and support and we are ready to assist.
Fiona Rasmusen, Solicitor 0131 226 9161
Sue Anne MacAulay, Solicitor 0131 226 9168
This blog was first posted on 20 March. It was updated on 1 April to reflect the most recent changes in this fast-moving situation.