A guest blog by Elizabeth Fletcher, Director at the Family law in Partnership; she has a particular specialism in resolving children issues. www.flip.co.uk
The Family Law in Partnershop and The Parent Practice co-present our 3 part workshop 'Parenting After Parting'.
Whilst all parents are struggling with the new reality of life with the Coronavirus pandemic, those who are separated parents with children moving between two households face particular complications in managing their child’s day to day life. As a headline point, parents should know that the government and specifically the courts know this and are sympathetic to the challenges. It is for this reason that specific guidance has been introduced.
Separated parents have often worked hard, sometimes in spite of acrimony, to achieve a good arrangement that enables their child/ren to spend time with both of their parents. Some of those arrangements will have required court input and may have taken months or even years to achieve. They can be fragile arrangements which require a great deal of commitment on all sides to maintain. Sometimes, one or both parents can feel like they lose out and this can lead to further feelings of anger or resentment.
In such circumstances, a government instruction to stay at home and not to see anyone outside your household for an (as yet) unspecified period of time, can put a further strain on parents and children alike. The government identified early on that its instruction to stay at home would not work well for the children of separated parents and provided an exception that children of separated parents may move between households. Unfortunately, this was clumsily communicated and led to some misinformation.
The President of the Family Division has now issued guidance on the matter which can be found here. https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/
Essentially, the Court has said “be sensible”. Parents are still in charge and they must as always act in the best interests of their child. Therefore, while a child may move between households, they don’t have to. If parents consider that their particular circumstances, given the risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in either of their two homes, means that it would not be safe for their child to move between two homes, then they should not do so.
The President rightly states “More generally, the best way to deal with these difficult times will be for parents to communicate with one another about their worries, and what they think would be a good, practical solution. Many people are very worried about Coronavirus and the health of themselves, their children and their extended family. Even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.”
The court has said in clear terms – Keep communicating! If this is tough to do directly, then use technology to help you. Explore the advice that the Parent Practice has to offer to help you too. The government and scientific advice seems to be at the moment that this could be a marathon not a sprint so trying to keep good channels of communication open now will help down the line.
So where parents can agree, a court order can be varied for the period of the Coronavirus. The best way to confirm any new temporary arrangement is in writing – a text or email is sufficient.
If the parents cannot agree, then the parent who considers the contact unsafe must propose some other form of safer, temporary contact such as a video call. If parents can manage it, they should provide this generously to help make up for the loss of face to face contact. If the other parent subsequently brings this back to the Family Court in the future, then the court will consider what was the sensible course of action at the time in light of the government guidance to Stay at Home and whether the parent with whom the child resides enabled as much phone/email/video contact as they could to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
So in summary, if your child normally moves between two homes, think about the following:-
These are difficult situations to resolve, but by keeping the channels of communication open, parents can support their children through this difficult time as well as continuing to facilitate relationships with the other parent.
If you need any further information on this, please contact Elizabeth Fletcher at email@example.com
You think it’s dangerous out there? What about at home? Being cooped up with your family for extended periods. What could possibly go wrong?
All of us are experiencing change at a very rapid rate which can really throw us out of wack. Some of us will adjust faster than others. You may have a child who doesn’t adjust easily even at the best of times. That’s the one who struggles getting up in the morning (and going to bed at night) has trouble going into school, moving from one place or activity (or person) to another and who doesn’t like surprises. Well surprise, surprise, school’s out early and we’re all going to be at home for …we don’t know how long. Your child might think this is great ….for the first 24 hours!
There may be tears and tantrums and general lack of cooperation… and then there’s the kids. We need to be understanding of that in all of us, ourselves and our children. On top of our worries about the health of our loved ones there is much disappointment about the loss of things we now can’t do, and for us, overwhelm at the thought of managing children and partner at home, home-schooling and doing our own work.
All of these feelings are valid and need to be acknowledged. It will not work to tell anyone not to worry or be upset. Don’t say everyone’s in the same boat; you just have to get on with it. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to keep all your plates spinning at once. If you recognise that you are angry and accept that that is a valid response to the situation you are less likely to take your anger out on your child or partner/sibling/cat. Processing the feelings allows space for your higher order thinking brain to take charge and work out how to cope.
There is no manual for how to manage self-isolation well. We are all new to this and all families are different. But we know that to not only survive, but thrive, in this time of incarceration the adults will need to do a lot of planning. But not just the adults. Everything will work better if you get input from your children, at least the over 3 year olds. I recommend you call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the family. Depending on your children’s ages you might send out an invitation like the one here. (Thank you Victoria). Do provide super snacks.
Before you embark on elaborate timetables for your home-schooling and enriching activities take a reality check. If you are working from home you will not be able to get as much work done as usual. You will have to prioritise sleep if you are to keep well and keep your cool so you cannot work all through the night and work with the kids during the day. People get very weird after only four hours of sleep. School may have set tasks for the children or, if not, there are many, many educational opportunities available online with social media bursting with ideas.
If school has set online activities you may need to share devices. All of this will need timetabling and you may need to communicate with school about what is realistic for your family. Be nice! They’re feeling their way too. They will be adjusting their expectations about what’s possible just now.
Set your kids up to do their work by using a chat through beforehand. No matter what age it works to ask your child sufficiently detailed questions about the task at hand to establish that they know what to do (or if there are any missing areas of knowledge) before they pick up a pencil/keyboard. Then let them get on with it. Depending on levels of independence it might be a good idea to work alongside them, dropping in the occasional dollop of descriptive praise for concentration or effort. Then when they’re finished or reach a break point (previously agreed) get them to look at their work and find at least one thing to improve. I wouldn’t review the finished product but if you do keep your feedback positive.
Make sure your timetables include some downtime, some outside time, some exercise and some family time. This is the time to pull out the board games and play together or watch movies as a family. Perhaps more screentime than usual might be ok now –there’s plenty of good quality material available on a screen. Check out www.commonsensemedia.org or www.PEGI.info for ratings and reviews. The family that plays together stays sane.