As we approach the seventh week of lockdown there has been an increase in reports of separated parents in conflict over arrangements for their children. Whilst some parents have continued with the contact arrangements previously agreed, there has been an increase in some parents either finding it hard to adhere to their Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) during lockdown or cases where the lockdown has been used as an excuse to prevent the other parent from seeing their children.
Child Contact Arrangements During Lockdown – The Official Guidance
On the 23rd March the government issued the ‘stay at home and away from others’ rule which included:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
This didn’t mean however that the children must be moved between homes. On the 24th March additional guidance was published on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders. Within this guidance it states that ‘parents must abide by the rules on staying at home and away from others’. However, the ‘expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their children’.
So, the decision was to be made between the parents to make a sensible assessment and take the best approach that would keep everyone safe by taking into account the risk of any more vulnerable individuals in each of the homes. And here within lies the problem for many parents who do not have the benefit of good communication between them.
Cafcass and the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary have continued with cases and assessments during the lockdown by using Skype and other means of video conferencing in order to continue with their services. If your case or assessment is imminent you will be contacted in plenty of time and advised on the new arrangements.
Changing Your Children’s Arrangements During Lockdown
If someone in either household is in the high-risk category for Coronavirus, a decision must be made between you as the responsible parents as to how best change the arrangements for the children. In some cases, a parent may be a key worker and therefore at a higher risk of coming into contact with the virus. Parents are free to temporarily vary a CAO if the changes made are;
- In the spirit of the original order
- Communicated to the other party with suitable alternative arrangements put in place for the children to maintain regular contact with the other parent
The safety and welfare of the children is the most important aspect of these decisions and where there is good communication between separated parents, these decisions can be arrived at and new arrangements made without disruption or emotional upheaval.
Communication Breakdown and Child Contact Issues
Where parents may have separated recently or perhaps there is high conflict, the Coronavirus lockdown has caused many issues where children’s arrangements have been disrupted. Here are some examples:
A separated couple in Totnes with a 3 year old daughter had recently settled on a schedule where the Dad would see his daughter every other weekend from Friday night to Sunday morning. However, when the social distancing and stay at home measures were introduced, the mother refused the weekend visit to take place saying that she felt the Dad wouldn’t be taking the social distancing seriously and would put his daughter and therefore herself in danger of contracting the virus.
Contact Not Possible Due to Distance
A mother of three living in Plymouth has found herself isolating alone with the children with no respite as the children’s father lives in Newcastle. The children used to travel by train to visit their dad and he would meet them off the train. He has now become unemployed and train travel is no longer safe for the children.
Shielding Elderly Relatives at Home
One Dad we spoke with is now longer able to see his children as he had to take the decision to isolate with his ageing mother who he must care for. Unfortunately, his children’s mother has turned this situation against him and is refusing phone and video calls with him, telling him the children no longer want to speak with him.
New Partner Moved In During Lockdown
At the beginning of the ‘stay at home’ guidance from the government, couples who were not cohabiting were told to make a choice as to whether to live together through the lockdown period. In this instance, the mother of two young children aged 2 and 6 decided to move her new boyfriend in for the lockdown, having only met him online a few weeks before. The father has become increasingly worried about the safety of his children as the new boyfriend is continually drinking and taking drugs. He has heard reports from neighbours with whom he is still in contact that there is a lot of shouting and uproar coming from the former family home.
Children Scared to Go to Dad’s
One family we spoke with have stopped physical contact with the Dad as he works in a supermarket. The mother has become very paranoid and fixated that he will have the virus, but she has made her children absolutely petrified that he has it and if they come into contact with him, they will catch it and die.
From the Children’s Perspective
At the heart of all of these situations, we have the innocent children who are experiencing a very frightening and uncertain time. Even if they are maintaining contact schedules with both parents and move between two loving households, they are still feeling scared. It is important to remember how they are experiencing lockdown. Children pick up on atmosphere and emotion around them, this can really affect them deeply and they may not be able to voice their fears and feelings.
Every child, whatever their age is missing their peers, their friends and their school environment. What started off as a week or two off school and seemed quite fun, is now confusing and lonely. Nothing beats messing about with friends, playing in the park and playing those imaginative games that only children can.
Children will also be experiencing the stress and frustration from their parents, who are possibly trying to work from home whilst juggling home learning for their kids. Money worries and concerns for the future may make parents behave differently which will be worrying and upsetting for children.
Many children are experiencing fear of the virus, particularly if someone they know has been affected and sadly passed away. Children always have natural a fear of a parent or carer dying, these feelings are of course going to be magnified during this time. Kids have also become infinitely more aware of their own mortality and may fear their own death.
During these strange times, it is even more important to take the time to talk with your children about their feelings and worries. Explain things and reassure in a way that is appropriate for their age and understanding.
Will the lockdown be relaxed on Sunday? As a nation we await the announcements on Sunday which will define how we all may be able to live a little more freely, but we are all acutely aware that if restrictions are relaxed it will be a very slow and tentative easing and by no means a return to life as we knew it. It is highly unlikely that schools will be reopening anytime soon. So, how do we cope? How do we make things as easy as possible for ourselves and our children? Let go of anger and embrace kindness and compassion. Open the lines of communication between everyone in your children’s lives.
Online Mediation Services During Lockdown
As experienced family mediators we can help you during lockdown to mediate with ex partners and family members to resolve conflict and any issues arising from separation or arrangements for children. We are able to do this via skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom or any other video conferencing method.
We have found that video or online mediation can be even more successful than it is in person, face to face. Each parent can join the video call from the comfort of their home, at a time that suits them. The pressure of having to be in the same room as your ex is removed. Separate sessions for individuals can be arranged prior to the joint session if that makes things easier. It is also possible to put you in separate breakout rooms during the session, mute one of you while the other is talking or turn off the video.
If you are struggling to agree on the arrangements for your children, or any aspect of joint parenting during lockdown, we can help. Call Frances now on 0788 903 9393 to find out more.