Separated parents and child custody during Coronavirus

For couples going through the process of a divorce, the coronavirus pandemic may have completely derailed proceedings. The courts are still working as normal, as these workers are considered essential workers. This is because “access to justice” has been designated as an essential service. But many courts are facing staff shortages and this is having a knock-on effect on the progression of many divorce cases, UK lawyers are being inundated by divorced and separated parents arguing over child custody during Coronavirus.

As these are unprecedented times, the law might not be clear on what is and isn’t allowed. This has left some parents wondering if they can block custody access until the danger has passed. Here we take a closer look at the issue of child custody during Coronavirus.

What does the law say?

The coronavirus outbreak hasn’t changed anything with regards to custody arrangements. While social distancing measures may be in place, parents who need to make arrangements for their children to have access to both parents are exempt. Children are allowed to spend time at both parent’s houses, so there should be nothing to stop parents from continuing with their previous custody arrangements.

What if one parent is sick?

This is where child custody during Coronavirus gets a little more complicated. If one parent is sick and there would be no one else to take care of the children, then it might be advisable to make an arrangement that the children stay with the other parent until they are better. But if there is childcare available which would not violate social distancing measures, such as a new partner, then visitation may be able to continue.

If a child is sick or displaying any of the symptoms, then they should isolate for 14 days. They should not be traveling between homes during this period to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

As outlined above, these are unprecedented times, so it’s difficult to say with certainty what is the best course of action. The best solution would be for parents to work together to find the best possible solution for the duration of the lockdown. 

But anyone on the route to divorce will know that this isn’t always possible. When a marriage has recently broken down, it can be difficult to make the transition to co-parenting. And this can be made worse by the current circumstances.

The next best alternative

If one parent is sheltering for health reasons, it might not be practical or safe for the children to travel back and forth between their parent’s homes. And if the parents rely on public transport, this can also be a barrier to continuing joint custody.

In this situation, the next best alternative would be to allow contact through video calling such as Skype or Zoom. Parents have a responsibility to help facilitate this as much as possible. If video calling is unavailable, then the children should be able to speak on the phone to maintain contact. 

All of this relies on both parents agreeing that the custody arrangements will be temporarily varied. It also relies on parents being able to coordinate a time when the children can speak to the other parent. Coronavirus might make things a little more difficult in the short term, but how this is handled could make a big difference in the long term.

What if you need support?

If you are being blocked from child custody during Coronavirus and you need support, you could apply for a phone mediation service to help both parties to agree on the best solution. Cafcass has switched to a completely remote offering, which means you will be able to seek phone support to solve your problem.

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