Support with contact arrangements for your child
If you are separated or divorced from your child’s other parent, the effects of coronavirus could mean you have to make some difficult decisions about contact arrangements.
Every family will be doing their best to minimise the risk of catching the virus or passing it on to other people, which might mean that your normal arrangements have stopped. The Government has said that children under the age of 18 can see both of their parents but that movement between family homes should happen as little as possible.
Contact arrangements are different for every family, and there is specific advice for different situations. Your arrangements might have been set out through a formal court order or you might have an informal arrangement and you and your child’s other parent may not agree about how and whether this has to change. You might be worried about your child when they are visiting their other parent, or have difficulties organising travel between the two of you.
Talk to your children about what’s happening and why
Once you and your ex have discussed the changes you need to make talk to your children about what’s happening and why. It’s important to consider your children’s views and make sure they know their feelings have been taken into account.
If you have older children, you may be able to involve them in some of the decisions about changes to contact. Be clear with them about what is possible and what isn’t possible right now to keep everybody safe.
Children faced a lot of changes to their lives through lockdown and may feel confused or anxious that things are changing again as restrictions ease. Changes to when and how often they see their other parent could feel even more difficult. Despite all the worries you face, try to focus on what your children need most and how best you can meet those needs in the circumstances.
Calmly explain the changes to your children and the reasons for them. Decide if it’s best for you and your ex to do this together, with one of you socially distancing, or if one of you should explain what’s happening.
If you decide to talk to your children without your ex, try and agree beforehand how you will answer questions your children will have. Now more than ever, children need things to be as clear as possible. It’s important that you and your ex give them the same messages. Give your children space to express their feelings - they may be sad, angry or distressed about the changes. Try not to lessen their feelings.
Make sure your children know these arrangements won’t last forever. Reassure them that when the Government says it is safe to do so, you will go back to the arrangements you had before.
If there is a formal agreement, arranged by the Court then it’s important to try to stick with this, unless you and your ex agree to make a change to it. You might decide it's best for the children to stay with the other parent for a little while if one parent is a key worker, or if travelling between houses means using public transport you might agree this isn’t for the best. When arrangements are changed it’s a good idea to write this down and send it to your ex.
You can change your child contact arrangement if you are worried that the order would go against Government advice. But if you do this without agreement from your child’s other parent there is a risk they could choose to contest it in Court. If this happens, the Court will look at whether you acted reasonably and sensibly, based on the guidance at that time.
Where face to face contact is not possible it's helpful to think about other ways to connect, like phone or video call or writing letters.
The Lord President’s guidance has more details.
You can continue to make arrangements informally, but if you and your ex can’t come to an agreement it might be helpful to get advice from a solicitor.
When you are making decisions, it is important to talk together about what the best approach is for the children and think about the different circumstances and risks.
You can also get in touch with Parentline to chat through the options.
If you are worried about a child’s safety while a visit is taking place and you believe your child or children are unsafe, phone 999.
If the children are not in danger but your ex is breaking a Court Order then you can phone the police on their non-emergency number 111. It is important to tell them straight away if your ex has used, or is using, domestic abuse of any kind. It is also useful for the police to know if refusing to let you have the children is a one-off issue, or part of a longer term pattern.
The Government has said that children can continue to travel between households as part of contact arrangements.
If you live a long way from your ex you may have worries about whether it is a good idea to travel a long distance at the moment. It can help to talk through the different options and the ways to keep everyone safe, especially if journeys are usually made on public transport.
You might want to make changes to your arrangements or find an alternative way for children to travel between households. If it’s not possible to talk directly to your ex about arrangements it might be helpful to talk through solicitors.
If it is essential to use public transport to travel between homes, you should follow the Government advice on how to travel safely.