Everyone has been affected by Covid-19 and the lockdown affecting us all. From businesses to courts to families everyone has had to adjust to working and living in a different way. In the first of our articles about mediation and the pandemic we look at issues involving disputes relating to children.

How Mediation can help disputes between parents

Family courts and applications regarding children were already putting an unprecedented demand on the court system before March 2020. In the 12 months to March 2020 new applications involving private children disputes rose by 4.2% to 45,694 new cases (source Cafcass.gov.uk). There has been a year on year rise in new applications over the last 3 years causing unprecedented pressure on the court system and court staff. Delays unfortunately have become an inevitable part of the private children law system. Delays are not good for children.

Coronavirus has meant many cases have had to be adjourned where it is not practical to hold a remote hearing. This will only add to the delays already in the system.

On 23rd March 2020 the government issued details of the national lockdown and made a specific exception to the stay at home rules in situations involving children under 18 who can move between their parent’s homes. Cafcass issued practical guidance to parents.

The advice given included practical steps on

  1. Maintaining routines for children
  2. Maintaining child arrangements unless it creates risk
  3. Maintain communication with co-parent (either directly or indirectly)
  4. Think creatively about how children can stay in touch with their other parent
  5. If time with the other parent has to be missed work with co-parent to make up time when the restrictions are lifted.

On 24th March 2020 the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane provided additional advice on compliance with child arrangement orders during the lockdown.

The advice by the President emphasised that

  • parental responsibility remains with parents and not the court where there is a Child arrangement Order in place
  • The expectation is that parents will act sensibly and safely and must abide by the government rules
  • The government exception to the stay at home rules about children under 18 is not an order and is a decision for parents to make together.
  • Parents may have different views on risk and what is safe
  • Parents are free agree together to temporarily vary terms of their child arrangement order
  • Where parents cant agree one parent can vary the agreement to one they consider safe. If these actions are later questioned by the other parent in court, the court will consider whether each parent acted reasonably
  • Where face to face contact is not possible, alternative arrangements should be put in place so that the spirit of the order even if the letter of the order cannot be delivered.

The coronavirus pandemic creates many additional issues for parents to consider.

For parents considering court proceedings the current health crisis is likely to be mean significant delay in getting matters resolved. Mediation is a quick and simple way of discussing the issues in dispute a before reaching a final agreement. Discussions can take place via Zoom or video whats app and often this is a less stressful way for parents as it avoids meeting in waiting rooms or on the way to our offices.

Our mediation team are experienced at using video meeting facilities and have experience of mediating with parents in the same house or in separate locations via zoom.

For parents who have separated but continue to live in the same house mediation can help establish ground rules about how both parents should behave whilst lockdown restrictions are in place. The focus should always be on children and in mediation we keep children at the centre of all discussions.

Because children are at home and potentially at risk of overhearing discussions, we are able to offer evening appointments. Discussions about children must be done out of earshot of them and often practically this means in the evening.

The advice given by Cafcass and the President of the Family division stresses the need for parents to work together. The pressures on parents has never been greater. Mediation can help  by offering expert help and support to guide you to make decisions together as parents.

Please contact us on 020 8514 9000 or by email us for a discussion about how our mediation team can help you.

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