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Contact with your Children over the Holidays
Usually at this time of year, the school summer holidays would be fast approaching. However, due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, most children are not at school and have not attended since March 2020.
Some children in reception years, years 1 and year 6 will have returned to school on 1 June 2020. However, it is estimated that one million children in primary schools would have stayed at home despite the schools reopening with parents and schools being worried about them attending school.
The welfare of children is the key consideration at this time and it is important their usual routine of spending time with both parents is maintained as much as possible. However, the health emergency means not everyone will be able to spend time with their children right now.
Where a child or adult in a household is in the vulnerable category or is displaying Covid-19 symptoms usual parenting arrangements may not be possible. That doesn’t mean parents can’t be in touch with their children. It may be that indirect contact such as telephone, Skype or FaceTime contact may be possible.
Where social restrictions are necessary families should amicably try to find solutions that are in the best interests of the child and the health of those around them in line with the spirit of contact orders. Both parents and children will benefit from this in the long run.
Every family is different and parents should work together to assess their particular circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in homes children may be visiting.
If parents cannot agree about contact with the children during the holidays, then it may be that matters can be resolved with the help of a family solicitor.
There are several options for parents trying to reach an agreement.
Firstly, the parents could attend mediation with a qualified neutral person. The mediator is there to assist discussions between parents and ensure that each parent is able to express their view. The ultimate aim is to reach an agreement and if this happens it will be written down into a Memorandum of Understanding. It is important to note that if this agreement breaks down it is not binding on either party.
Family mediation starts with a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (a MIAM). During the Covid-19 restrictions, mediators are currently conducting these online using FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or telephone.
It is now mandatory before a parent is able to issue court proceedings to have considered mediation, and if it would be appropriate to have made a referral to a local family mediator. However, mediation is not appropriate in all cases, for example, for victims of domestic abuse. The mediator will assess the suitability of each case.
If mediation is unsuccessful the parents could seek legal advice. With the help of a family solicitor they could try to agree arrangements through letters. It may be that an impartial family solicitor can advise about the legal position, as well as put forward suggestions that the parents may not have thought of. This often allows the parents to view things differently.
Child Arrangements Order
It is the court’s view that an application to the court should be a last resort after the parties have exhausted all other options.
A child arrangements order sets out where the child should live and what time the child should spend with the other parent. In some cases, the child will live with both parents. Each family is unique and so the arrangement for each family also must be unique. There are various options and the court must explore all of them.
When an application for a child arrangements order is made to the court, CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will complete safeguarding checks. This includes checking with social services and the police to see whether or not contact with both parents is safe. They will also speak to both parents to work out what the issues between them are before the first hearing. CAFCASS will then make recommendations to the court before the first hearing as to how they think the case should progress and what the temporary arrangements for the child should be.
The courts’ main consideration in any application is what is best for the child. The courts will always promote a relationship with both parents, provided it is safe to do so.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement with guidance from the courts and CAFCASS then it will be for the courts to decide what the arrangements for the child should be. The courts would rather the parents agree arrangements than have arrangements forced upon them.
During the Covid-19 restrictions, court hearings are being dealt with remotely with hearings being dealt with either by telephone, Zoom or Skype for Business.
We do not currently know whether we will be able to have holidays abroad this year, due to the Covid-19 restrictions. However, if we are able to then if one parent wishes to take the child abroad during any school holiday then they would need to seek the permission of the other parent to do so. The exception to this is if that parent has a child arrangements order for the child to live with them. This means that they are able to take them abroad, for a period of up to twenty-eight days, without the permission of the other parent.
If there is not a child arrangements order in place, and the parents cannot agree, then a parent can apply for permission to take the child abroad (a specific issue order) or to stop a parent from taking a child abroad (a prohibited steps order). There would have to be a very good reason for the courts to stop a child going on holiday abroad, as it is usually in their best interests to go.
If a grandparent wishes to have contact with the child, and one or both parents do not agree, then it may be that they need to make an application to the court. However, a grandparent needs to first of all seek the permission of the court before they are able to apply for any orders.
For advice in relation to contact with your children please get in touch with our Family Law Team using the form in the sidebar of this page. Alternatively, you can call us on 01453 847200
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