Warning to parents using ‘lockdown excuse’ in custody battles

A top judge has warned that separated mums and dads should not exploit lockdown rules in fights over contact with their children. Sir Andrew McFarlane, head of the family courts in England and Wales, said parents trying to use Covid-19 guidance to prevent an ex-partner from seeing their child could face court action.

Shane Miller, a director and head of the Family Law department at Thursfields, explained that lawyers across the country had been inundated with cases of ex-couples stopping visits altogether during the pandemic.

She said: “We welcome the clarity provided by Sir Andrew who has correctly pointed out that, as long as both households are healthy, children should continue to visit parents they do not live with.

“And we also value the authority he provides by stating that anyone deliberately taking advantage of lockdown regulations to ignore child court orders could end up facing legal action.

“The guidance for parents who live apart states that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes after a sensible discussion, and an assessment that the children are not being put at risk.

“Therefore, as Sir Andrew has said, if any parents are found to be acting in a ‘cynical and opportunistic manner’, then the courts will regard this as wrong.”

Ms Miller said it was understandable that for some parents, where issues of trust and communication have broken down, conversations over child visits can seem impossible during COVID-19. But she added: “Sir Andrew’s statement that the current guidance is adequate is really helpful.

“He acknowledges that a child’s safety with regard to the virus is a matter for parental judgement, and he doesn’t want the courts to take that away. However, he is urging families to focus on children’s welfare, and to therefore make sure they are in touch with both of their parents, and visiting both if it is safe to do so.”

Anyone with child contact issues can contact Ms Miller for advice on smiller@thursfields.co.uk or 01562 512442.

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