Separated families in lockdown
The announcement of the first Government lockdown in March 2020 left a number of families feeling anxious about what the future holds. Over a year down the line and unfortunately, not much has changed. Families continue to find themselves in vulnerable positions following mass redundancies and the introduction of the furlough scheme whilst regular changes to the rules surrounding social distancing and mixing with other households has left separated parents feeling uncertain about child contact arrangements. Here we look at the impact that Covid-19 has had on family law in Scotland with a focus on children of separated families.
It’s fair to say that we all know someone whose employment has been negatively affected by Covid-19. The Government have reacted to the impact on the UK economy in a number of ways. But what has been done to help parents who are struggling to meet alimentary obligations? After all, changes to a separated parents income will not only impact them but also the child who relies upon that payment. Unfortunately, the answer is not a lot.
Regardless of any changes to a parents financial circumstances, formal written arrangements regarding child aliment continue to be enforceable. If your circumstances have changed in such a way that you are struggling to meet aliment obligations, then there are a couple of options available to you.
- Where one parent has perhaps lost their job as a result of Covid-19 and the other has not, you may be able to come to some sort of temporary agreement to postpone or reduce aliment. Separation often causes friction between parents and communication breaks down. However, in these unprecedented times where we are all feeling the effects of Covid-19 in one way or another, many separated parents have been able to come to agreements to vary aliment obligations in times of financial hardship. Parents can choose to negotiate directly or by instructing solicitors to act on their behalf.
- If you cannot come to a mutual agreement, you can get in contact with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This can be done online or via telephone and it is relatively simple to do. Before deciding whether to vary aliment obligations the CMS will ask you to explain any income reductions you have suffered. This might be, for example, because you have been made redundant or have been placed on furlough. In order to protect the interests of the child benefiting from your income, you will be encouraged to continue paying as much money possible. If the CMS are satisfied that there has been a sufficient reduction in your income, they will amend your level of aliment obligation.
When the first national lockdown was announced, no person was allowed to be outside their home unless it was for an essential reason. Unsurprisingly, this raised a number of concerns for children who usually move between households of separated parents. However, the Government were quick to quash these concerns and issued guidance clarifying that these restrictions did not apply to children under the age of 18 who are travelling between households.
Since then however, the rules on social distancing and mixing with different households have changed more times than one can remember. It is therefore little wonder that parents are fearful of inadvertently breaking the rules when it comes to child contact. However, the rules on child contact for under 18’s have not changed since March 2020. Children can move freely between households without breaking any rules or being subject to any fines. It is important that parents familiarise themselves with these rules and make every effort to maintain any child contact arrangements they have in place.
Of course, there may be situations where sticking to child contact arrangements would not be sensible or safe. Whilst this may be difficult, there are a number of things that both parents can do to help:
- Parents should communicate with each other as far as possible to express their concerns and come to any alternative arrangements. For example, it might be safer for the child to stay with each parent for longer periods at a time.
- Speak to the children. It is important that children understand why contact arrangements with a parent might have changed.
- Arrange telephone and video calls. If contact arrangements have been varied so that a child no longer gets to spend time with one parent, the court will expect alternative arrangements to be made in order to maintain regular contact. Both parents can work together to create scheduled times for calling children.
It is important to highlight that parents must not use Covid-19 as an excuse to vary existing child contact arrangements. If a parent does vary these arrangements without the consent of the other, they must be able to prove that it was reasonable to do so in the circumstances. If it was not reasonable in the circumstances, they may find themselves in a difficult situation when challenged by a court.
Communication is key
The effects of Covid-19 will continue to be felt by many families for some time. Many of the issues arising for families with separated parents can be resolved through mutual communication and understanding. Parents should try hard to remember this and put the child’s best interests first.
Contact Kee Solicitors today to arrange your free initial consultation.