Supervised contact and Coronavirus
News article published on: 8th April 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has created a number of difficult challenges for separated families.
The Government has been helpful in confirming that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can move between their parents. This clarifies matters to a point and the key message is – where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.
In practice, this may be easier to suggest than to implement. Expecting parents in previously high conflict cases to engage constructively to ensure that contact is maintained is probably very ambitious. It is probably for this reason that the President of the Family Division added “If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family” Whether after the pandemic crisis is over courts will look at what has occurred in the past in any detail is possibly doubtful.
If parents who are living in different households face challenges then parents who are subject to supervised contact are in even more difficulty. The National Association of Child Contact Centres, confirmed as at 25 March, that “for the moment” children and parents should not attend contact centres. Some helpful advice was given as follows:
- Centres are working creatively with families to see if there are other people that might be able to take up the role of the contact centre. This works well where there are family members or other trusted people that can step in, to support. The government has detailed that children can travel to see parents and the judiciary are urging parents to work together in making decisions for children where this is safe and appropriate.
- Indirect Contact is being achieved using technology like skype, WhatsApp video calling, FaceTime and so on. Some centres are finding ways to support this so that similar arrangements can be implemented in line with the services usually being offered.
- Other centres are reducing service sizes and availability. This means that whilst the centre may have suspended contact, it might be possible for them to offer handovers for those parents who just cannot organise this without the centre.
CAFCASS can and do offer some guidance for parents in individual cases so, it is a good idea to try and contact them. In one case I am involved family members and trusted friends are supervising contact for the father but the Coronavirus epidemic has made it nearly impossible to find supervisors who can still act in the role.
CAFCASS suggested a short unsupervised walk near the mother’s home. While not ideal this temporary solution did at least ensure some face to face contact between father and child.
The current crisis should not be used by either parent to their personal advantage but it is hoped (perhaps over optimistically) that in times of crisis such as now that parents can put aside past grievances and work constructively for the benefit of their children. The crisis requires constructive and innovative thinking in many different areas of life and separated parents should try and rise to that challenge also.
Blog post written by David Leadercramer, partner in the family law team.