Lockdown has affected us all in many ways. For families who no longer live under the same roof, the impact could be quite profound – in fact there are instances where contact between the non-custodial parent and their children came to a halt altogether. That is in spite of the Family Court in England and Wales giving clear guidance that wherever possible children were still free to go between their parent’s different homes throughout lockdown without any restriction.
Why has contact stopped?
In some cases, particularly where long journeys were involved, contact ceased. Sometimes this was by agreement between the parents where both were concerned about potential infection; sometimes it was the decision of the non-custodial parent alone. In those cases, the Family Court made it clear that they expected arrangements to be reinstated as soon as possible when parents felt it safe to do so and the custodial parent should be offering time in lieu as lockdown eased.
Lockdown is now easing but unfortunately, some custodial parents are reluctant for the arrangements for children as they were prior to lockdown to be reinstated. They cite that children have now grown used to not seeing the other parent or that it is no longer appropriate for them to do so. Some parents are still very anxious about the pandemic and the risk of infection, though many reasons have been given.
How can contact be reinstated?
My experience is that the courts are supportive of a non-custodial parent’s relationship with their children. If you are in the unfortunate position that arrangements have changed because of lockdown and you are unhappy with the change you do not have to accept it. The first step is to attend a mediation information assessment meeting, a “MIAMS”. If mediation is possible there is a good chance that you will be able to resolve things and come to an agreement. If not, the mediatorwill provide the necessary documentation to allow you to institute court proceedings to reinstate the contact arrangements.
The court will always look at the best interests of the children and will approach it on that basis. This does mean that the previous arrangements will not necessarily be automatically reinstated though that is likely to be the starting point, especially if there is already an existing court order in place. The court however will be keen to ensure that the children are able to have a real relationship with the non-custodial parent and make sure that him/her play a real role in their lives. As always, do seek legal advice when considering any application to make sure of your ground.
Stephen Root is a top ranked Family Lawyer with 30 years’ legal experience.
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