Solicitors in the UK have been bombarded with calls and emails from divorced parents arguing about where their children should stay during the current COVID-19 lockdown, with some even trying to get their former partners sent to prison for breaking existing custody arrangements. Some parents have been using the outbreak of a novel coronavirus as an excuse to stop their ex from seeing their children, and one woman asked her solicitor to apply to a judge to send her ex to prison after he didn’t pick their child up for a regular visit, despite her ex having proof that he would not be able to get there. Another wanted to have her ex-husband locked up after he took their children to a different address from the one stipulated on the court order in order to allow vulnerable family members at the usual address to self-isolate.
Many parents are reporting their exes refusing to return children from visits, and allowing children to become so scared of catching the virus that they don’t want to see their other parent, or saying that the child cannot leave because the household is self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms only for photos on social media to suggest otherwise. Others are worried about leaving their children with an ex-partner who is one of the seven million key workers in the UK.
How Has Lockdown Affected Child Custody?
The UK lockdown came into force on Monday 23rd March, but at the time, it appeared that the government had forgotten about children who divide their time between parents who are separated. The following morning, the guidance was amended to include the fact that children who are under the age of 18 can be moved between the homes of both parents if the parents do not live in the same household. Parents are expected to care for their children and make safe, sensible decisions regarding the housing arrangements for their child and where and with whom they spend time. Parents could be permitted to change certain details of their custody agreements, if necessary, during the lockdown.
Family Solicitors Are Busier Than Ever
Since the lockdown came into force, family law solicitors around the UK have been inundated with requests and enquiries from concerned parents. Some parents are merely being opportunistic and trying to use the current circumstances to cancel contact between their child and their ex-partner, while others have authentic concerns for their child’s health and safety and want to know whether their caution is reasonable, or whether they could be penalised for making changes to their child custody arrangements. Of course, not all parents are being reasonable; some parents were refusing to let their child visit their ex because they didn’t believe the ex would be able to teach times tables.
New Partners During Lockdown
Government advice to non-cohabiting couples was that if they wanted to see each other and spend time together during the lockdown, they should move in together or ride it out until the lockdown ends. While this might have worked well for some childfree couples who were thinking of taking the next step in their relationship anyway, it hasn’t been so great for families with kids involved. Some parents have been concerned that their ex has moved a new partner that they know nothing about into their household where their child is staying, or in some cases, the other parents’ new partner has got their own children who are coming to stay from another household.
Are Parents Being Unreasonable?
It’s natural to have concerns regarding the health and safety of your child during a worldwide pandemic, but some parents contacting family solicitors are simply being unreasonable. As mentioned, one mother applied for her ex-husband to be prosecuted and imprisoned after he took the children to a different address to the one specified on the custody arrangement because he needed to consider vulnerable relatives who had been told to self-isolate at the original house; a spiteful move on the mother’s part, according to Cara Nuttall, a family solicitor at JMW. She says that parents need to understand that the crisis does not give them ‘carte blanche’ to do as they please.
How’s It Affecting Kids?
As with any custody agreement, the health and well being of the children should always be a top priority which is clearly recognised by the government in allowing children to be moved between the homes of two parents who do not share the same household. The coronavirus outbreak has already caused significant disruption in the lives of many kids around the UK who’ve had their normal routines completely changed and are not going to school, spending time with friends or taking part in any after-school activities.
The kids of parents who are overreacting and being unreasonable in terms of allowing their children to continue spending time with the other parent as normal are likely to be somewhat affected emotionally and mentally by this. Experts advise parents to make arrangements that are safe and suitable for everybody involved and try to keep things business as usual wherever possible when it comes to the amount of time that children spend with each family.
Do I Need to Contact a Solicitor?
If you are concerned about your child spending time with their other parent during the lockdown, you should try and find family solicitors in your area so that you can get the right legal advice for your situation. You might want to get legal advice if your ex is refusing to return the child after the agreed visit time, or if you are worried that your child’s health is at risk when staying with your ex for any reason. In some cases, temporary custody agreements can be put in place for the duration of the lockdown if this is in the best interests of the child, and then reversed when things return to normal.
Many parents will have completely justifiable concerns about child custody arrangements during the COVID-19 lockdown, but according to lawyers, many are also using the situation as an excuse to deny contact with their ex and get what they want. Wherever possible, you should try to be flexible and keep things as close to normal for your child during this time.