How do parents maintain contact with children as lockdown eases?
PUBLISHED: 09:28 17 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:28 17 June 2020
Richard Bevan, head of child care at Spire Solicitors LLP, discusses how to manage child contact between parents and families as lockdown eases.
During the main lockdown period, most parental contact continued with the emphasis on clear communication between parties to ensure the bests interests of the children for contact and welfare.
Although the rules requiring us to stay home did not apply to children travelling between households – providing appropriate measures were adhered to for distance and hygiene – some confusions did exist at the beginning of lockdown between messages from government ministers and government, which contradicted the appropriate options for child contact.
The key information for families who have contact arrangements between adult parties and children now that lockdown has eased is that any existing Child Arrangement Order (CAO) is to be used in line with the parameters defined at the start date, alongside new guidelines issued by government.
For the children to smoothly transition between any gaps from the lockdown period, it would be advisable for a transition period. Communications between all parties on reinstating any changes must reflect the best interests of the child at a pace suitable to the their needs. For example, with schools reopening, children may need a suitable amount of time to adjust back to the recent changes and daily routine.
The above continues with children seeing extended family on either side of each family member, in particular, grandparents, with the allowance of current rules and guidance. At the time of this article being written, the guidance is up to six people social distancing outside.
During this transition period, our advice still stands as that in the beginning of lockdown, and if any dispute or disagreement arises, we encourage parents to try and negotiate the issue between themselves for the best interest of the children. This will continue as lockdown eases and to when lockdown is lifted fully.
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This position also continues to parents of children who are eligible to return to school, with one parent agreeing and the other not. Schooling arrangements should be made between all parties who hold parental responsibility for the children concerned. The current stance for attendance at a physical school setting is that it is up to the parents if they wish the child to return, otherwise, the position is to continue schooling from home.
If parties are unable to come to a suitable agreement on a dispute arising over contact for children, we would recommend at first you contact your solicitors for mediation to limit both disruption and time for the children under a Child Arrangement Order.
If an arrangement cannot be reached in relation to the matter of whether a child should be at school or not between now and the autumn term, provisions can be sought through the Courts if resolving disputes from communication, mediation, or arbitration cannot be reached.
The main factor for the Courts would be via an assessment as to what serves the best interest of the children, including health, home environment and continuity needs of education.
During the lockdown period we also saw an increase in queries over payment of maintenance and now with lockdown easing, maintenance is still payable regardless.
It is important to note that maintenance varies depending on the number of overnight stays but may also be reduced while contact is not taking place. It remains payable at any minimum level based on the paying parent’s income.
We understand that all disagreements surrounding contact and any Child Arrangement Order cannot be solved between bother parties in the first instance, and we will always recommend mediation through a solicitor is sought as the next step, prior to looking at further methods including arbitration between parents concerned to avoid the children becoming involved in a court setting.
The above article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to discuss any points in the article, please call Spire Solicitors LLP on 01603 677077 for all your legal needs.
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