COVID-19 has changed people’s lives in more ways than one, but the pressures of lockdown put an additional strain on those who are part of separated families. Many families will have child arrangements in place, whether that be by virtue of a court order, or by informal agreement, however many also do not, with contact taking place on much more of an ad-hoc basis.
Unfortunately, parental alienation is something that we at BLM commonly encounter. However, for those who may be unfamiliar with this term, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) recognise parental alienation as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. For parents who are looking for every opportunity to frustrate contact, many may feel they have hit the jackpot with using COVID-19 as an excuse not to present the child/children for contact, whether they use the excuse that they are too concerned about potential contraction of the virus, make false claims that they are self-isolating or are required to shield, or explain the virus in a way that makes the child too scared to leave the safety of the family home to attend contact.
Many children have now also made a staggered return to school, but with reports that a large majority of schools in Milton Keynes now have ‘bubbles’ who are isolating, this brings a further potential frustration to contact arrangements, especially if your child is one of those required to isolate. It is clear that contact arrangements should not continue if the child or someone in their household is isolating, and in this scenario, Zoom, Skype and FaceTime have proven invaluable.
If a parent is using COVID-19 as an excuse to frustrate contact, it is important that this is dealt with as a matter of urgency. COVID-19 has frustrated our lives for almost a year now, and despite talks of a vaccine on the horizon, there is no telling how much longer our lives will be dominated by the virus, and the changing restrictions could continue for many months, therefore it is important that contact issues are sorted out sooner rather than later.
Matters can then be further complicated if contact between the child and the other parent takes place in the community. Should contact take place in an area under Tier 3 restrictions, indoor play centres, bowling alleys, cinemas, arcades, restaurants and other key locations for community contact to take place, remain closed.
Though both the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, and the government have made it clear in the regulations that a reasonable excuse to leave the place you are living includes to continue existing contact arrangements, often travelling for this contact can mean jumping between the tiers. The government have indicated that the tiers may be prone to change fairly frequently and, therefore, keeping up with the changes can at times seem like a monumental task.
Staff at BLM are keeping up to date with the ever-changing regulations and restrictions surrounding COVID-19 and are committed to providing expert advice and assistance on all aspects of child contact.
For more information about Bastian Lloyd Morris, visit www.blmsolicitors.co.uk or call 01908 546580.