Sadly, it is a fact that when unhappy couples spend prolonged periods of time together they often argue and, for one reason or another, realise their relationship has ended. The busiest times for family solicitors are shortly after Christmas and 2 week summer holidays.
The impact of the Covid-19 virus gives rise to unprecedented times. With couples being forced to spend prolonged periods of time together, along with financial worries, health worries and concerns for extended family, there are bound to be arguments. Don’t be hasty in concluding your relationship has irretrievably broken down, but do not feel that you need to leave yourself in harm’s way because of the current restrictions that are in place. If there are emergencies, the proper course of action remains the police service; if you are suffering harm or at risk of suffering harm you should call the police. Although the court service has closed its doors to the public for non-urgent/non-critical court hearings, it still remains functional and, in cases of emergency, it is available. The family team here at Hadfield Bull and Bull have made modifications to the way it is working at the moment and remains fully functional and available to individuals who need advice as it relates to relationship/marriage breakdown.
With nearly every aspect of life changing rapidly, we have received a volume of enquiries regarding living and contact arrangements relating to the children of separated parents.
An element of common-sense should prevail so that during the crisis parents can, even for a short period of time, put aside their differences to ensure that the best interests of their children are served. It should be appreciated that children benefit from relationships with both parents. This crisis should not be used as a means of ensuring that the other parent does not spend time with his or her children. The court service will not sympathise with that sort of behaviour.
At this time, children are able to move between their parents’ homes. The Government has not impose any restrictions in that respect. The way in which children move between parents’ homes must of course be as safe and infrequent as possible. Additionally, if there is a ‘vulnerable person’ within either parent’s home, it is not appropriate for the children to be moved from one environment to the other.
If children are able to move safely between their respective parents’ homes, there should be agreement about what is appropriate exposure and what is not. For instance, it is currently permissible to go out once each day for exercise. There should be agreement between each parent about what this will involve. There should be agreement about how much time a child is going to be permitted to spend on a computer/tablet/phone and what other home based activities can be put in place to keep children occupied, for the welfare of everyone in the home.
If the children are sharing weekday times with each parent, given that the schools are now closed to all but essential workers, there should be some discussion and agreement as to what is expected in relation to school work. There should be some element of consistency. Parents might consider drawing up a daily timetable for schoolwork that each parent will be able to follow, taking into account their own work commitments. Most school work is online, but if it is not, parents need to make sure that the children have the books and resources they need.
Whatever adaptations and changes are necessary, children will need to feel reassured that their parents love them and will be there for them in whatever way possible. The current situation will be causing most children anxiety and it is therefore even more critical than ever to minimise parental conflict.
If it is agreed that children’s movements between parents are to be modified or scaled down for the time being, please consider how the ‘absent’ parent should be able to have some communication with the children. Set out below are some points to consider:
- Make use of Zoom, WhatsApp video calls, FaceTime and Skype. Agree that these calls can take place more regularly than may have happened before.
- Allow time for children to make a video for the parent they may not be able to see as regularly.
- Agree additional holiday time later in the year.
Sadly, there are many parents for whom communication is difficult or impossible. If agreement cannot be reached or one parent feels that they are being unfairly excluded, an application can still be made to court. The Court will be dealing with court hearings remotely. However, this is very much a last resort and specialist legal advice should be obtained before making an application either to enforce an existing arrangement or make a new one.
Please do not hesitate to contact the family team here at Hadfield Bull & Bull for more information if you need it.
Julia is a Solicitor at Hadfield Bull & Bull.
Please contact 0208 301 0808 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family matters with Julia.