Communication between separated parents is going to be put to the test in this current crisis as the schools closed on Friday.
As a mediator and solicitor, I cannot stress to separated parents enough, how important co-parenting is especially at a time like this. We all need to work together, and it is important that separated parents put their differences aside and help each other where they can. It may be that one parent is a ‘key worker’ i.e. a nurse or teacher and the other parent is required to step up and help with childcare where they may have not been a primary carer previously.
In order for everyone to get through this current crisis, everyone needs to consider how their actions will affect everyone short term.
I have received a lot of calls from parents about how the new changes will affect their current arrangements and I have detailed below the most frequently asked questions to date:
I have a current Child Arrangements Order in place which states that the children see their father every other weekend. I am a nurse and my ex-partner is able to work from home and he is not classed as a ‘key worker’. If my children spend more time with him to allow me to work, does this mean the arrangement will continue after the epidemic?
We are going into unprecedented times and it is difficult to predict correctly how the judiciary will deal with matters following this pandemic. In the event that the father, in the above scenario, makes an application for the children to spend more time with him or to have shared care, the Courts usually do take into account the ‘status quo’. It is unclear how long the current situation will last and how long children will be away from school. If you are a key worker, your children will be able to attend school, but it may be that you chose not to do this due to health and safety. In my opinion it will be wrong of the Courts to penalise you for doing your line of work which is invaluable. I would suggest that both parents co-parent and agree a parenting agreement together clearly setting out that any new arrangement is a temporary measure and discuss what will happen in the event that you or your ex-partner contracts the virus. There are benefits for having a plan in place and being proactive rather than reactive when people are vulnerable and may not be thinking straight.
Another option is agreeing a parental agreement through mediation. Discussions can take place via zoom or skype and a clear plan can be discussed and documented by the mediator. At mediation you control the process and you can discuss how to deal with this current situation in a controlled environment.
I don’t communicate with my ex-partner and we have not discussed anything about what is going on and I am concerned if one of us get the virus?
Mediation is a fantastic tool to engage in communication with your ex-partner in a controlled environment. Due to the current situation, as a mediation practice we are not conducting face to face appointments but that does not mean we cannot assist. The regulations for mediations state that mediations can take place via videolink. This can take part on a shuttle basis where I call you both separately and go back and forth to try reach an agreement or it can also take place on Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom where we have a three-way video conference. In the process, as mediators we can assist you in agreeing a Parental Agreement as detailed as required by your individual circumstances.
Mediation is your process and in some instances, this can be dealt with in one session. Each case is different and if you would like more specific advice on how mediation can assist you, please contact me.
My ex wife is refusing to allow me to see the children as they have gone into self-isolation. I think she has said this just so that I can’t see the children!
Again this scenario is unprecedented and I would hope that in this difficult time that parents will come together and be compassionate to one another in this current pandemic. I understand that this is not always the case and some will take advantage of the situation to isolate the other parent. If you are also going into self-isolation, then it is possible to both care for the children but it is important to follow the government guidelines and not come into contact with anyone if self-isolating. This may be possible if you collect the children from your car and straight back to your house. Again, this is unprecedented and I am suggesting practical solutions to assist in such scenario which no doubt many separated parents will face.
If they are self-isolating, you can have regular video calls with the children to ensure that you stay in contact. I also saw on the news last night that grandparents are giving lessons to the children over video links and absent parents could also do this to help home school the children if they are in isolation and you cannot visit them. It is good to stay positive and be imaginative in ways to stay in touch until things have passed. Mediation again could assist, and I can do this via video link. Please remember that mediation is voluntary and if the other parent will not engage in the mediation process then the only other option would be to issue court proceedings. At present the Courts are still running and there is no bar on making an application, albeit the hearings will most likely take place via video link.
What if we go on lockdown – do the children stay with Mum or Dad?
Again, there is no rule of thumb on this issue and until we go into the lock down stage we are unsure how this will take place in practice. In other countries where they have gone into the lockdown stage, they have allowed people to leave their house for essential travel. It will be up to the government and I hope clear guidelines are provided to what constitutes as ‘essential travel’. This may or may not include travel between parents.
I shall endeavour to keep people up to date at all times with new legislation as it is announced. If you are at all unsure as to your position, I do offer a free consultation and I am happy to discuss your family law matter with you. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or my mobile on 07473185651.