By Sally Perrett
On the 23rd of March, we went into lockdown procedures for our own safety and the safety of our community, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, at the end of our 8th week of “stay at home” precautions, we face a minimum of two more weeks at home, followed by a period of uncertainty as we adjust to the “new normal”.
The lockdown has not been easy for anyone, and we have seen tremendous acts of selflessness and dedication from our various key workers who have stepped up and kept our essential services functioning. Thank you to all of you.
All through this period, our clients at CJCH Solicitors have continued to need assistance in matters relating to various family and childcare scenarios.
How, for example, do separated partners with shared custody of their children make arrangements for access to their children, or seek enforcement of their rights? In a Covid-19 world, these are not easy situations and take a new way of thinking to address.
That said, we continue to be here for you, the courts are still proceeding with hearings and cases are still being resolved. Today, Sally Perrett answer some of your questions in the hopes that this assists others with their concerns, Q&A below.
Sally is a senior solicitor at CJCH, and is the head of our Childcare Law department, bringing years of specialist experience to advise her clients on these often difficult situations.
Q: Are the courts still functioning, will my legal matter be heard during lock down?
The Family Courts are still operating, and so far we have seen cases already listed taking place as normal albeit ‘remotely’ by way of telephone hearing or video meeting. New applications can still be made but may take longer to be listed as emergency applications are being prioritised.
Q: I have custody of my children and my ex would like to see them/have them visit. Can I allow this?
The Government has issued specific rules on staying at home and away from others, ‘The Stay at Home Rules’. Guidance has been issued alongside these rules specifically dealing with child contact arrangements “ where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
This does not mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to be moved between parents and homes is ultimately a decision for the parents following a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
Q: My ex has custody of our children and is refusing me access. What do I do?
If you have a Court-Ordered Child Arrangements Order in place and a breach of the child arrangement order occurs there is the option of applying to the Court to have the order enforced, however, there is a strain on Court services currently and your application may not be dealt with urgently unless there is a child protection concern. The Court is unlikely to make an order for enforcement if it is satisfied that the parent refusing access had a reasonable reason not to adhere to the child arrangements order.
That being said the Courts are aware that parents could potentially use the current situation to frustrate arrangements that have previously been Court ordered and it is, therefore, possible that a sanction could be issued.
Q: I think my neighbours are abusing their child/children. What do I do?
You should contact your local Children’s Services department who will investigate the situation further. You can do this by contacting your Local Authority’s general number and asking to be put forward to Children’s Services to make a referral. You will then be put through to the duty team. You can choose to remain anonymous if you wish to do so. Some Local Authorities are giving out an email address to contact so you may want to contact the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) on 0808 800 500 who will make the referral to your local Children’s Services department for you. If you think it is an emergency situation and a child is at immediate physical risk, contact the police.