How to keep contact arrangements smooth in a changing lockdown

With the latest government advice easing lockdown restrictions slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic, families who have separated can look to advice from family law experts about how to ensure child contact arrangements are being adhered to in a time of change.

The latest government restrictions outlined a number of changes to the UK lockdown which was first implemented back in March, including unlimited exercise and the go ahead to meet with one member of another household and enjoy outside parks and spaces whilst safely distancing.

Whilst restrictions are still in place for moving between households, apart from a limited range of circumstances – the family law experts at JMP Solicitors have put together top considerations for ensuring smooth contact arrangements continue during this time.

Emma Darley, family law executive at JMP Solicitors, said: “Whilst lockdown restrictions have been eased slightly, in terms of child contact arrangements – there certainly still needs to be structure for the wellbeing of families and it’s important to understand where parents and children stand in terms of the current restrictions set out by the government.

“The most important thing is the health, safety and wellbeing of the children and it’s important that parents do not exploit the lockdown situation as a weapon of prevention in stopping children seeing the other parent, as contact arrangements should still remain very much in place.

“We have been faced with an incredible amount of different, often conflicting news and information in the last two months so we’ve put together top considerations for families to help at this time.”

Here’s a list of considerations to keep contact arrangements smooth during a changing lockdown:

• Don’t deny contact
Resident parents may be understandably worried about allowing their child to leave home for contact with a non-resident parent but they should not limit or deny contact. The most up-to-date government guidelines clarify that all children under the age of 18 should go ahead with court orders and contact arrangements with each parent, and all travel to facilitate this should be allowed. If parents do not comply, when there is no reasonable excuse or exception then the non-resident parents have the right to seek enforcement action.

• Health exceptions
Court orders should remain in force unless there is an exceptional circumstance such as illness in the house, or if the child is in a vulnerable group, for example; if they are less abled or have underlying health issues, then the child will have to stay in one place. If there is a genuine risk to the child’s health or a vulnerable adult in the household, it should be agreed that any time lost during lockdown is made up for once the restrictions ease and communication is kept open to ensure a contact arrangements move forwards seamlessly and the child does not lose out on contact with the non-resident parent.

• Communication is important
If contact arrangements cannot be continued for any reason, then other lines of communication should be explored during this time through video calls on Facetime, Zoom and/or Skype or via phone calls, to minimise disruption and ensure families are able to communicate openly.

• Court time
It is highly unlikely that court time will be available over the next few weeks to enforce orders, therefore members of the public should do their best to reach an agreement, as it is in the interests of the children for contact to continue.