Contact arrangements during Covid-19
At Macleod & MacCallum, our Family Law Team are very conscious that at this time many separated parents are very worried about how to deal with the arrangements for their children’s contact with both parents, because of Covid-19.
Understandably, parents want to do whatever they can to ensure their children remain free from the virus, that their children don’t transmit the virus to vulnerable family members and also that their children continue to maintain relationships with the parent and extended family, with whom they do not live.
At the time of writing this briefing the government guidance is clear, individuals should only be leaving their homes in the following situations:
• shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
• one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
• any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
• travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.
The government has clarified that this should include children travelling from one parent’s home to another parent’s home, if parents are separated and their children are under the age of 18. This means that as far as the government is concerned, an established pattern of contact should continue during “lockdown”, wherever possible.
However, every case must be considered based on its own circumstances and if you are a parent with parental rights and responsibilities, it is your responsibility to assess the level of risk to your child, depending on the individual child’s known health concerns and also any risk factors in either of their respective parent’s homes.
The team at Macleod & MacCallum would strongly urge, separated parents to try and work together at this time, to find the best solution for their children. This is an unprecedented situation and it’s important that coronavirus is not used as an excuse, for one parent to limit the others contact, unnecessarily. However, a parents valid concerns should also not be overlooked. Courts will take a very dim view of parents who do not act reasonably at this time.
Late last week the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service published guidance to help family law solicitors and parents navigate this challenging issue, where court orders for Contact are in place. The guidance can be found here.
The majority of separated parents do not have Court orders in place, but instead operate a contact agreement on a voluntary basis. However, whether you are agreeing contact voluntarily, or are subject to a Court order, the guidance useful.
At this time of an national emergency, the Scottish Court Service is operating a restricted Court service. Inverness Justice Centre, is now one of 10 hubs in Scotland, dealing with emergency court cases. This means that Inverness Justice Centre is for now only dealing with urgent family law cases, amongst other criminal business and other urgent civil cases. The expectation is therefore for parents to reach and reasonable agreement with each other wherever possible, either directly or with a solicitor’s help.
The Family Law Team at Macleod & MacCallum, are now working remotely, as per government guidance. Fiona, Morag and Jenna are still here to help you deal with your family law matters, whether they involve Covid-19 or not. For advice tailored to your situation, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01463 239 393.