COVID-19 and Impacts on Arrangements for Children

This is a really difficult period for all of us but the coronavirus outbreak may have particular impacts for children whose parents are divorced or separated, both in cases where a court order is in place or those where arrangements are more informal.

Parents with child arrangement orders made by the Isle of Man courts must comply with those orders unless there are extreme reasons not to such as receiving a confirmed diagnosis of Covid 19. Failure to comply with the Court Order can amount to a contempt of court. The Emergency Powers (Prohibitions on Movement) Regulations 2020 do permit a person to leave their home to take a child to the home of another parent or guardian of that child. This is supported by the Isle of Man Government guidance which permits children to move between the homes of separated or divorced parents. Normal arrangements should continue whilst everyone in both households are healthy and not showing symptoms of coronavirus. If either parent is a key worker then it may be best to agree amended arrangements. Co-operation and good communication is essential to facilitate this.

Separated parents need to discuss and agree the approach being taken in each of their homes about hygiene, home schooling and social distancing measures. This will help everyone adhere to the guidelines and help children feel reassured that the similar rules apply in both homes. Maintaining routines and consistent messaging for children as far as possible is key in these difficult times.

Many separated parents are able to prioritise their children above their own feelings towards their former spouse. However, sadly this is not always the case. A parent who does not really want the children to spend time with the other parent may be tempted to use the COVID19 restrictions to prevent or limit contact.

One parent preventing a child from having contact with another parent would not, in most cases, be in the best interests of the child. There may be good reasons for both parents to agree to cease or alter arrangements to remove risks but as far as possible these should be short term. In some cases, the parents, children or other family members may be self-isolating due to symptoms being present in the household. In these circumstances children should remain where they are and not move between households until the 14 day isolation period has passed and no other family members have shown symptoms. During such time parents should use alternative methods to promote the relationship with the other parent such as phone, video calls, telephone calls, or sending electronic messages or pictures. Children are going to find the present situation worrying and it is important they have regular contact with both parents to alleviate any anxiety they may be feeling.

In high conflict families the willingness of parents to be flexible in child arrangements could be an issue. The Isle of Man courts are still operating and could hold remote hearings or consider paper applications. The court will consider the best interests of the children to consider their short term and long term health and well-being. A judge is likely to be critical of any parent that manipulates this situation to their advantage. Applications to enforce child arrangements should only be done as a last resort.

Our family lawyer, Claire Clampton is available to assist any parents who need advice on their specific circumstances. She can be contacted by email or telephone on 614422.

Contact

BridsonHalsall Advocates
Havelock Chambers
16-18 Mount Havelock
Douglas
Isle of Man
IM1 2QG
Telephone: +44 1624 614422
Email: reception@iomlaw.com