COVID-19 (CoronaVirus) and Child Arrangement orders
Published on March 21, 2020
What happens if I cannot drop my child to see someone under a Court order because I am self-isolating, or they have self-isolated?
Am I in breach of a Court order if I do not allow contact to take place?
How can I make sure that I am not in breach as I do not want to go through Court proceedings again?
What are Enforcement proceedings?
When proceedings take place in respect of a child to enable one party to spend time with that child, and a final order is made, any breach of that order can be enforced under Enforcement proceedings at Court.
The party who has suffered as a result of a breach can make an application for Enforcement using form C79 and issue it with the Court that is local to the child. Through Enforcement proceedings, the person who has breached the original Child Arrangements order, can be made to undertake unpaid work, or pay a fine. The Court can order the person breaching to pay “compensation” to the applicant for costs in relation to making the application.
If there is a continued breach of a Child Arrangements order, where one party is wilfully obstructive towards contact, then the Court can grant a Penal Notice and a breach of a Penal Notice can lead to Contempt of Court proceedings. If an applicant is successful in bringing Contempt of Court proceedings the person who is in breach can be ordered to pay a fine, or in worst cases be imprisoned for a period up to 6 months.
The impact of COVID-19 (CoronaVirus) and Self-Isolation
So where does this leave those parties who are currently self-isolating or are taking precautions as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Those who have a live with order may be faced with making difficult decisions over the coming weeks/months. The Government have been giving daily advice and guidance on how we should protect ourselves from CoronaVirus and the potential spread to others. Parents or carers who are subject to Court orders will be worrying about potential breaches and potential Court proceedings that may follow.
Here are a few tips to manage this already stressful time:-
- If you are able to discuss matters with the other party, then you should try and make alternative arrangements such as contact over video calling and regular telephone conversations. This is age dependant as young children generally do not enjoy speaking on the phone, however, older children will have more to say. It may be appropriate for you to set out the changes to contact by a letter, or by preparing a Parenting Plan which you can both sign. This will allow you both to know exactly what the arrangements are for this unprecedented time and to show that you have made every effort to adhere to the Court order.
- If the parties are not on speaking terms, they can try to communicate via text message or email and make alternative arrangements. One suggestion may be for the child/ren to spend additional time with the other parent later in the year after the pandemic is over, or at least the advice to isolate is relaxed. As with point 1 above, a letter can be prepared or a Parenting Plan.
- Where there is no, or limited communication between the two parties, it may be necessary to revert to the Court during this time so that they can help decide the best way forward. It is often more advisable to go back to Court, than risk being in breach and Enforcement proceedings being issued. If you need to issue Court proceedings, it will likely be on an urgent basis using the C100 form. The current guidelines from the HMCTS is that the majority of hearings can be dealt with remotely – that being via Skype or telephone conference. If evidence needs to be given it can be done via Videolink.
- In the case of an emergency, where proceedings need to be issued to protect yourself or a child, the Court will still hear applications live where evidence needs to be given. In most circumstances applications can be dealt with by Skype, Videolink or telephone conference. This will be at the discretion of the Court when dealing with Allocation of the case upon issue. An emergency list will continue, and should you need to make an application you should contact the Court local to you.
Remember children are just as confused by what is happening as adults, and it is important to allow them to spend time with the person they do not live with. This information is all dependent on the safety and well-being of the child who is involved, and contact should only take place where it is safe for the child/ren.
If you need some advice about putting together a Parenting Plan, or to clarify arrangements by letter then you can contact our Family department on 0116 247 0022. We can take instructions via Skype or telephone and prepare documentation to be sent by email. We have facilities to allow signatures to be done online to ease the burden of going out for everyone.
In the event, a Court application is needed, we are still business as usual and we can assist you in preparing the application, and representation at Court in the various ways set out above. It may assist you in having a Solicitor represent you in order for the correct documentation to be filed for the hearing to progress. Having a Solicitor will eliminate the need for you to disclose any information to the other party especially in circumstances where they are confidential.
This is a difficult time for everyone and it may seem that the measures will be put into place for a long time, at this stage it is unclear exactly how long. This uncertainty affects everyone and we at TML Solicitors can assist in putting together some legal clarity.