“The current climate will result in a degree of uncertainty for separated parents”

BY SALLY NASH, FAMILY LAW PARTNER AT GILSON GRAY

Boris Johnson’s divorce lawyer has recently been consulted on a dispute where one parent is not letting her two children see their other parent for the weekend.

A mother approached Neil Russell, saying that her children didn’t want to visit the other parent due to concerns they could be stuck away from their usual home for weeks if they have to self-isolate.

Undoubtedly, this is a worrying time for everyone. For family lawyers these are unprecedented times. For separated parents, alterations and variations to existing co-parenting arrangements are likely to be necessary due to government guidelines on self-isolation, school closures and restrictions on foreign travel. We discuss the impact, and some possible solutions below.

Foreign travel

If a parent wishes to travel abroad with a child, they require the other parent’s consent. If such consent is not given then the issue would have to be decided by a court. The court would then have to consider whether or not consent was being withheld unreasonably.

We now approach the Easter Holiday period when many co-parenting families will have made plans to travel abroad. In the current climate the restrictions in place will dictate whether travel plans will be able to take place.

If your planned holiday abroad isn’t going to go ahead, could alternative arrangements be made? This could be rearranging the holiday to take place later on in the year.

If the other parent lives abroad then phone-calls, Skype and email could be used as alternatives, albeit we recognise that they’re not a sufficient replacement for direct contact.

Sally Nash, Family Law Partner at Gilson Gray

Co-parenting

Whether you have an informal agreement setting out contact arrangements or they’re set out in a court order, the current climate will result in a degree of uncertainty for separated parents.

Following Boris Johnson’s announcement, placing the most severe restrictions on public life in recent history, many parents were worried they would not be able to see their children if they did not live with them full-time.

Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, initially indicated that children should not be moving between different households during these restrictions. That advice has since been clarified and the government guidance now states that where parents do not live in the same household, children can be moved from one household to another, assuming no-one in either household is displaying symptoms of virus.

This means the terms of any co-parenting agreement or court order will still apply – unless and until this presents a risk either to your child or any other person such as the other parent.

In the event that your co-parent stops your child spending time with you entirely, you can still make an application to the court. The Courts are still dealing with urgent matters and have put alternative measures in place for any such applications.

If there’s a court order in place which you cannot comply with, you should immediately notify the other parent. In these circumstances, we would suggest alternative proposals should be put forward, taking into account the government guidance.

If a member of a household shows symptoms, the advice from the government remains clear that the individual should isolate themselves for a period of seven days. Any other members in that household must isolate for a period of 14 days, to allow for any symptoms to develop. In these circumstances, it’s important to use alternative contact methods such as Skype and email.

Both parents will need to be prepared to adopt a degree of flexibility over the next few weeks and months – there will need to be some give and take. It goes without saying that a child’s health and wellbeing should take priority, despite the fact that may mean a temporary reduction or variation in the time you spend with your child.

School Closures

School closure and not being able to spend time with friends may result in your children becoming unsettled, so it is important that you adhere to as normal a routine as you possibly can across both households. If changes are necessary and your child is unable to spend face to face time with the other parent then they will understandably be upset and confused. Regular FaceTime or Skype calls with the other parent should be facilitated to help reassure them.

Gilson Gray’s specialist family Law team is fully up to date with the situation and aware of guidance from the Scottish Courts Service and the measures being put in place to deal with such issues as and when they arise. The firm has put in place measures to ensure there is no disruption to client service during this difficult time. Whilst working remotely, all members of the team are fully operational, working as normal and contactable by all the usual methods.

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