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Separated families co-parenting in Covid times

As lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions ease, separated and divorced parents will once again have to adapt their co-parenting arrangements.

Co-parenting and the Family Courts during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

The Family team at Lodders are acutely aware that co-parenting children in separated families when life is relatively stable can be a challenge. Early specialist child focused legal advice is critical to support parents to achieve the best solutions for their families.

Co-parenting during the Coronavirus pandemic

Co-parenting during Covid and particularly during the lockdowns brought into sharp focus the extraordinary challenges faced by separated families, the under resourced Family Justice System and the importance of alternative dispute resolution options.

During the lockdown periods when confined to the home, parents and children experienced stress, anxiety, and disruption.

Some children were exposed to arguments and conflict between their parents. More children were exposed to the difficulties in sorting out the practical child arrangements – making sure the relationship with both parents was ongoing.

Parents often struggled in speaking to their solicitors and court appointed officials such as a Cafcass (court child welfare) officer.  Parents engaged in telephone or video Court hearings from home found it difficult to find privacy. This combined with a Family Court system beset with delays and access problems, presented extraordinary challenges for families and solicitors working with them.

For some families home working or furlough and the freedom from the shackles of the school routine resulted in more flexible sharing of the children’s time with each parent. However, early in the pandemic for Baldish Khatkar and Vivienne Middleton, the specialist children’s law solicitors in the Family team at Lodders, there was a huge upsurge in parents refusing to honour agreed or Court ordered arrangements for time spent for children with absent parents. The parent refusing time spent invariably cited lockdown restrictions and Covid risks as justification for non-adherence. Progress was made by the Family team in these cases with an emphasis on negotiations, immediate video calls for children, expedited referrals to mediation and appropriate urgent court applications.

Adherence to existing orders improved after confirmation and guidance from the President of the Family Court and Cafcass was issued confirming movement of families between households for the purposes of time spent for children with an absent parent was permitted as an exception to the lockdown restrictions and ‘normal’ child arrangements for separated families should continue as before. In the meantime, however, children experienced disruption and absent parents questioned the point of formal agreements and Court Orders in circumstances when the Court system to enforce the Orders was difficult to access and beset with huge delays.

These were unprecedented times for families and those working in the Family Justice system. The specialist Family Teams at Lodders however quickly adapted its services to deliver Covid safe in person and remote meetings and access to legal advice to help parents achieve child-centred outcomes through negotiation and expedited referrals to alternative dispute resolution options and Court applications for urgent cases.

The roll-out of video hearings and Court powers to suspend a case and order parents to quickly engage in out of court alternative dispute resolution processes is a welcome addition to the Courts armoury. Having experienced the benefits of video calls, in post lockdown times the prevalence of parents seeking and the Court ordering video sessions for children and absent parents has continued in the cases the Family Team are dealing with.

The Courts after lockdown

As lockdown restrictions eased and invitations to vaccinate rolled out to school children, parental disputes dealt with by the Family team extended to the less common Court applications for specific issue orders for the Court to determine disputes about to vaccinate or not, to home-school or return to school and to travel abroad. The challenge for the Courts, families and their legal advisors in these specific issue cases is that they are extraordinary and largely untested issues with no higher court decisions for guidance and limited or conflicting evidence on the pros and cons and risks of child vaccinations and infections from travel abroad.   Nonetheless these are cases that need specialist and sensitive legal advice for parents which the Lodders Family team provide.

Delays in the Court process remains a significant frustration for families and their solicitors. The escalating legal costs for cases that do not resolve before a final hearing at Court are an additional strain for families in current difficult economic times which is why exploring early alternative dispute resolution options to avoid costs remains a priority for Baldish and Vivienne when working with families.

Court orders that define the child arrangements for shared care or live with and time spent for children continue to be important and have a role in cases where an agreement cannot be achieved through alternative ways, and nothing less than a formal order will achieve what is best for the children.  Despite the continuing challenges with the Court process, Baldish and Vivienne encourage parents to take early specialist legal advice on child arrangements when there is a dispute.

Get in touch

The Family team deals with all areas of children work however usual or extraordinary the family circumstances and difficulties are.  An outcomes focused approach is taken. We act for all types of families and wider family members too.

If you need help with arrangements for children in your family, please contact our specialist children law solicitors in the Lodders Family team by email or telephone.

Vivienne Middleton: Vivienne.middleton@lodders.co.uk

Baldish Khatkar: baldish.khatkar@lodders.co.uk

Tel: 0121 200 0890

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Emily Brampton, Lodders Solicitors

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