We are living in worrying times and while we are all anxious about the health risks arising from the coronavirus pandemic, there are additional concerns for parents of young children. Alongside disruption to schooling and usual routines, there may be additional concerns arising from relationship breakdown, domestic violence or other family disputes.
David Place family law expert at Richard Reed Solicitors takes a look at some of the frequently asked questions on the impact of the coronavirus on family law matters.
You should check the Government website for the latest guidance in conjunction with this article, as the guidelines on the coronavirus (COVID-19) are changing daily.
Q1: During the ‘lockdown’ should my children see their other parent?
Michael Gove MP has confirmed that travel is permitted to allow children of separated couples to continue to see both parents. Ultimately this is a decision for parents to make jointly, weighing up the safety concerns. If your child is to see their other parent then handovers need be kept to a minimum.
This means you should try and agree with your former partner any changes possible to reduce unnecessary travel. For example, if one parent normally sees their child on a Wednesday afternoon for three hours and a Friday evening for two hours you may wish to change this to five hours occurring on a Friday instead.
It is sensible for both parents to show a degree of flexibility and help ensure their own family and the wider community are kept safe.
Q2: I am self-isolating, should my children have contact with their other parent?
The UK government guidance states that if you have displayed symptoms of coronavirus everyone living with you must isolate, including children.
However, if your child is in one of the vulnerable categories, for example they have asthma, then it may be safer for them to isolate with your former partner away from your house.
If this occurs, anyone in your former partner’s home must also isolate. This should be for the duration of the Government’s advised isolation period (typically 14 days, but this can change if they develop symptoms).
This is a tricky decision as, although relocating would reduce the risk if your child has not already contracted the virus, if they do have the virus you could be unnecessarily putting another household at risk.
Q3: My former partner is isolating, should my children still see them?
No. Your children should not be exposed to your former partner if they are suspected of having coronavirus or if they are isolating due to being at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms from coronavirus.
This will be a difficult time for many families and children, and where physical contact cannot occur you should maintain contact by telephone or video calling.
Q4: Can my children come and live with me if my former partner is isolating, or has coronavirus?
This depends on the circumstances. The Government advice is to isolate whole households, including children, if someone that lives there has coronavirus.
If your child has an underlying condition that makes them more vulnerable to severe symptoms then it may be of benefit to move to reside with you temporarily, provided they are not displaying any symptoms.
You will need the consent of your former partner to any temporary change in residence. If there is a court order in place in relation to your contact arrangements, you may need to take legal advice.
Q5: My children are now off school, can I insist that my former partner shares this extra care?
It is best to try and reach an agreement with your former partner over sharing this additional care and helping out with any home schooling. If your former partner refuses then you should contact us for advice on further steps to take.
Q6: I have lost my job, how can I continue to pay child maintenance?
If you suffer a cut in your income by up to 25 per cent then the level of child maintenance, your pay will reduce. If you are now on the coronavirus job retention scheme your income still may have reduced sufficiently if you normally worked regular overtime or your earnings were over £3,125 per month. You can check the online government calculator to see by how much your payments could reduce.
If you have an informal agreement with your former partner over maintenance, then you should contact them directly to agree the reduced payments. If your maintenance was assessed by Child Maintenance Services, you must contact them to inform directly of the change in your income.
Q7: My partner is abusive, and I am worried about isolating together – what help will be available?
Key services will remain open. If you experience any domestic abuse you should contact the Police for immediate help.
Domestic abuse charities have issued a joint statement outlining their commitment to continue doing everything they can to support survivors.
We are also on hand to help assist with any legal orders you may need to protect you.
Q8: I have heard courts are shutting down, what happens to my case?
The courts remain open and are giving priority to critical cases, for example care proceedings and abduction. Cases are being dealt with remotely via telephone, video calling or email. The courts are working urgently on expanding the availability of technology and in the meantime are using facilities such as Skype. The courts hope to minimise disruption to all family cases, but given the speed of these new changes, and depending on witness and client access to remote services, many cases are likely to experience some delays.
Divorces already take place online and it is expected there should be minimal disruption or delay to this, subject to staff shortages due to isolation or illness.
If CAFCASS are involved in your case, they have indicated that they will continue to deliver essential services. Their offices are all now closed, but they intend to work remotely and conduct interviews with parents over video calling if possible.
If an urgent matter arises, for example regarding matrimonial assets or finances, you should contact us urgently on 0191 567 0465 as steps can still be taken remotely to raise these issues.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published on 1 April 2020.