A look at the challenges facing co-parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic

The challenges that surround co-parenting can be frustrating and difficult from day to day. Whether a formal contact structure is in place or custody is shared on a more fluid basis, there are multiple factors to be considered and varying schedules to contend with. Add to the mix the current lockdown restriction, and it is no wonder that a lot of parents are finding the present environment worrying and confusing in relation to arranging and maintaining contact with their child.

Recent government guidance has confirmed that children under the age of 18 can still be moved between their parents if they do not live in the same household. This comes after Michael Gove’s speech on Good Morning Britain stated the opposite, and left many parents nationwide wondering whether they would be able to see their children at all for the duration of the lockdown. Whilst the government stance on children moving between parents has been clarified, it throws up more questions, as moving a child between parents lies in direct conflict with the government’s general lockdown requirements and directions. How can you co-parent responsibly and ensure everyone’s safety during such a time of risk and restriction?

Aspects such as the health of parents and children, any pre-existing medical conditions parents or children may have or whether one or other or both parents are required to continue working within the community as a ‘keyworker’ will need to be taken into consideration when looking at contact arrangements the lockdown. Whilst the government has commented that existing arrangements should be maintained; this is on the provision that this can be achieved safely.

Issues such as spending time at contact centres, passing a child between parents, the need to self-isolate or being unable to adhere to court ordered contact are problems that, due to the pandemic, are becoming increasingly common. Regardless of other aspects of any co-parenting situation, the interests of the child are of paramount importance. It is vital that, wherever possible, parents communicate with each other, to encourage flexibility in arrangements if necessary and work together, no matter how difficult that may be, to find a common ground and act in the best interests of their child.

If a parent does fall ill, or develops concerns regarding their health, and are therefore required to self-isolate, applications such as Zoom, Facetime and Skype could provide alternatives to direct contact. It is important that the government guidance of 14 days self-isolation are followed if symptoms become apparent, so a little resourcefulness and creativity in arranging contact between self-isolating parents and children can go a long way to maintaining relationships and contact time whilst self-isolation is a necessity.

Whether there is a court order in place that will require varying, or parents are operating within more flexible contact arrangements, any changes to contact need to ensure everyone involved is kept safe during this time, and ideally made in agreement to avoid additional stress to both parents and children. Where the child is older, maybe they could be involved in discussions to help formalise a plan that all can agree to. If a court order is in place this should be adhered to, unless it is contrary to the child’s best interests to do so. This could extend to the requirement by either a parent or a child to self-isolate due to ill health or risk of the child contracting the virus, however it should be demonstrated that there is a very good reason to vary from the directions within the court order.

Where parents are unable to agree on contact arrangements during this difficult time, it may be necessary to seek legal advice to formalise arrangements or attempt mediation to resolve any issues between the parents. The longevity of the current situation is uncertain, and restrictions may suddenly change, requiring parents to make fast and sometimes difficult decisions regarding changes to contact. The family courts are still running, albeit remotely with telephone and video hearings now the norm, but this should only be a last option and once consideration of all other approaches have been considered. This includes consideration as to whether a hearing paid for privately by the parties, adjudicated by an arbitrator is appropriate as this, essentially, bypasses the court process and allows for a quicker yet similarly binding conclusion.

As a family law department, we are experienced in assisting parents with care arrangements and are now, more than ever, being asked our advice in this regard. If you have any concerns or would like to discuss any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact a member of the GoodLaw Family Team on advice@goodlawsolicitors.co.uk who