Today and over the coming weeks and perhaps even months, society is facing worrying and unprecedented times with the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), especially when it comes to co-parenting during Coronavirus.
The UK and Scottish governments have made clear social distancing guidelines to help the NHS and save lives. This means that individuals must not leave their home unless it’s for essential shopping, daily exercise, medical help or work if working from home is not possible.
The Coronavirus pandemic has left parents from all corners of the country asking a lot of questions about how to go about their daily lives, especially where children are involved. In particular, many divorced parents are wondering how to continue to abide by their child custody agreements and how to continue co-parenting during Coronavirus. How do you successfully co-parent and move children between households when you are asked to stay at home?
Not only are the guidelines for this issue blurred, but it is these times when it is now more important than ever for children to spend time with both of their parents and that each parent continues to have an equal opportunity to engage in family activities. This is to keep to their set out child custody agreement, but first and foremost, to continue putting the child first and to provide as little disruption as possible to their daily routine.
COVID-19: Parental Responsibilities And Rights
The Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, has outlined some general advice to parents and carers whose children are the subject of orders made by a court relating to parental responsibilities and rights. They are:
- Parental responsibility of a child continues to rest with the child’s parents or carers and not with the court.
- During Coronavirus, parents or carers will act sensibly, safely and in line with the UK and Scottish governments’ guidelines outlined above.
- During COVID-19’s lockdown, parents are able to continue to co-parent when living in separate homes.
- If there is a court order or formal agreement in place, parents should stick to these arrangements.
- If there is a less formal agreement, parents should discuss with each other on how best to approach the situation and make a decision on whether a child is to move between homes after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s current health, risk of infection or the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
- Keep all lines of communication clear and mutual in order to manage the situation and its solutions agreeably, sensibly and practically. For example, one parent may think it’s safe for contact to take place, but the other parent may not agree, causing conflict and stress for everyone involved.
- Where parents, acting in agreement, conclude that the arrangements set out in a court order relating to parental responsibilities and rights should be temporarily varied, they are free to do so. It is advised to outline this agreement in writing, such as an email or text message.
- Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements, but one parent is concerned that complying with the court order would be against current government advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider being safe.
- If after this event, the parent’s actions are questioned by the other parent, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the government’s guidance, together with any evidence relating to the child or family.
- Where, either as a result of the agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the court order, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent safely. This could be done through FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or any other video call or telephone conversation.
Information regarding court hearings and urgent business can be found on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal website. Any non-urgent business is currently being dealt with in court and any non-urgent child welfare hearings are not proceeding in court.
In urgent cases, the court will consider an application for one to be fixed if it is deemed essential. For child welfare hearings that do proceed, the normal rule is that parties must attend child welfare hearings, but given the current Coronavirus crisis, parties are not required to attend child welfare hearings in person at this time.
Other Guidelines On Co-Parenting During Coronavirus
In addition to the above guidelines, there are other pieces of advice you can follow to make it easier to co-parent for all involved during COVID-19. Co-parenting is a challenge under normal circumstances so trying to maintain a healthy dynamic with your ex during a global pandemic is doubly hard.
Some more guidelines include:
It goes without saying; comply with government guidelines and social distancing, but also model good behaviour for your children, including intensive and regular handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched and stay informed with the most reliable media sources. This is all to reduce the risk of spreading Coronavirus and keep children and parents healthy.
Children’s routines have been severely disrupted, especially with their classrooms now being at home and if parents are considered as key workers or work in the healthcare industry. It is now more important than ever to maintain a civil relationship with the other parent for the sake of your children and your own sanity.
During this time, children can feel extremely unsettled and anxious so having their parents problem-solve and be united will make all the difference in how they fare during this crisis.
Co-parents must also be willing to adapt child support in the event of a job loss, which is becoming more and more common during this crisis as businesses need to cut costs to stay afloat. If this is something that co-parents need to do, ensure any new agreements are noted in writing.
Normal routines have taken a huge hit and so it is vital to be understanding of each other’s schedule. Now that the majority of Mondays-Fridays are working from home, it may be an idea to split childcare in half here, especially now that schooling is taking place at home.
With this routine in place, each parent has their fair opportunity to spend quality time with their child as well as having a few child-free days to catch up on work. More importantly, the child would also have equal time with each parent, whereas he/she might not have beforehand if parents had a weekday/weekend split.
In the first instance, parents must follow their court orders when it comes to child custody, but when it may be unsafe for the child to spend time with a parent, such as exposure to COVID-19, other arrangements can be made.
However, courts may not be able to hear these cases at this time as explained above so if a parent has potentially been exposed to COVID-19, act rationally, even if it goes against your custody agreement. Don’t risk exposing your children to the virus just to enforce the custody schedule.
It is absolutely key to keep in constant communication with each other, be transparent and always compromise. Get through this crisis together with as little conflict as possible. This pandemic evolved too quickly and will continue to do so over the coming weeks and months, so we must all do what we can together.
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic and maintain a calm and collected attitude towards your children, conveying to them that things will eventually return to normal. Avoid making careless and passing comments in front of children and avoid exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at an age-appropriate level.
How Can Cath Karlin Family Law Help You With Co-Parenting During Coronavirus?
The team at Cath Karlin Family Law understands how stressful child custody and co-parenting can be under normal circumstances, let alone co-parenting during Coronavirus. It is crucial to remember that you should always put your child’s needs first and to put any differences aside.
During this unprecedented time, the courts will only deal with urgent matters on a triage basis, so if you need any information or advice on co-parenting during Coronavirus, don’t hesitate to contact us today. We also offer mediation and collaborative options to solve any issues and these can be done over video links to keep in accordance with social distancing. Whatever you’re struggling with, Cath Karlin Family Law is here to help you.