During the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, separated parents have been dealing with the decision of where their children should visit during the current lockdown. Head of Family Law at leading Yorkshire law firm Keebles LLP, Joe Bartlett, provides guidance for people experiencing this situation.

Joe advises: “In April, Head of the Family Courts, Sir Andrew McFarlane, confirmed that children should continue to visit both of their parents if both households are healthy during this period.

“When trust and communication has broken down, conversations can seem impossible. However, it is urged that both parents focus on the best interests of their children rather than their own needs.

The welfare of the children should be the paramount consideration of both parents.  Parents should not try and use the situation to their own ends.  The current crisis has led to many of us having to make urgent decisions. Any decisions about your children should be approached by firstly ensuring that any arrangements are safe.  If there is an existing routine and there are no safety concerns, then those arrangements should remain in place.

The situation can be extremely difficult for keyworkers.  The arrangements may need to change to consider the shift patterns that NHS or social care workers are undertaking or the different scenarios for other keyworkers.

“Even the most reasonable of parents can find the decisions that they are having to make during the crisis difficult, particularly when it comes to decisions regarding children’s safety”

We are in difficult circumstances and everyone is being faced with extremely difficult choices to make.  When tempers flare this can often make the situation worse. Issues that could have been resolved with a little thought and re-assurance can escalate and polarise both parents’ positions.

Joe adds:Most people will prioritise their children’s welfare. Part of the advice we have had to give is communicating the decision-making process to the other parent.

If initial advice from a solicitor doesn’t resolve the situation, you should mediate. Mediation is a process by which both parents attend by video conference to discuss matters with a third party (the mediator) with a view to resolving a dispute constructively.  We have been impressed with how quickly mediators have acted to the Covid-19 crisis in ensuring that parties can mediate via video conference.

If mediation and the involvement of solicitors does not resolve the dispute, then there is still the option of Court Proceedings.

“Courts have said that they will try and deal with cases urgently where no contact is taking place and often this can be done by telephone or video link.

“Whilst every parent will have a different opinion regarding safety and their child’s welfare, by remaining calm and getting sensible advice early, issues can be resolved.”