Last month, government guidelines were announced to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Ireland. As of the 20 March, the public has been told to stay at home apart from necessary food shopping and medical needs, brief exercise within 2 km of your own home, and work for those listed as ‘essential services’. Part of the restrictions also included not meeting family members who do not share your home unless you are proving food medicine or care for a family member who is ill or cocooning.
Understandably, this has raised many questions for separated families and how they are to continue with their current childcare arrangements. If your child spends time between two houses, it is important to know what you can and cannot do at this time.
In this guide, we will cover:
- your rights to co-parent,
- travelling and dropping off your child,
- information for those working in essential services,
- what to do about high-risk family members,
- if you need to go into isolation, and
- if the other parent is refusing to drop the child off.
At Boyce Kelly Solicitors LLP, our family law team remain available for any concerns you may have at this time. For expert advice tailored to your circumstances, get in touch with one of our specialist family lawyers on 074 9890190.
Child arrangements during coronavirus
During the current lockdown, parents can continue to share custody of their children according to the guidance. Travelling between parents’ homes has been classed as essential travel at this time, allowing parents to drop and collect their child without going against government restrictions. You should carry a copy of the court order/agreement setting our access arrangements with you when travelling.
If you currently have an Order dealing with Access with your ex-spouse/partner, the terms of the order still hold and should be followed as closely (and safely) as possible at this time. The only reason this should change is where it poses a risk to the child or another person.
At this time, parents should try to communicate openly and honestly with one another if they are concerned about the situation, but always putting the child’s health first as a priority.
What is the safest way to do a handover?
Following government guidelines, those who do not live in the same household should not come within a 2-metre distance of one another. As such, parents who live in different homes need to follow these rules when collecting and dropping off children. You should drop the child at the house of your ex-spouse/partner or in an open space. You should have no physical contact with anyone from another household, and therefore should not walk the child inside the other parent’s house.
I’m a frontline/essential worker – can someone look after my child if I’m working?
At present, even if you are a frontline worker or someone providing an essential service you cannot have a childminder come into your home. The government are working on a scheme to provide childcare for frontline workers.
I have to go into self-isolation, what does this mean for shared custody?
If you start to show symptoms and therefore need to self-isolate, this will affect your current childcare arrangements in place. If the child lives with you and you have to isolate, then following HSE advice, the entire household would need to isolate. As difficult as this may be for the child, it is important to stick with the measures in place to ensure everyone can stay safe.
Encouraging virtual interaction
A clear advantage in today’s day and age is that there are unlimited means of contacting family members. Trying to organise a video call with the other parent can help the child have face-to-face interaction if your household is self-isolating. Losing contact is the last thing that is wanted at this time, so encouraging such communication means the child can continue to get valued time with each parent.
What if a high-risk person lives in the other parent’s home?
Any household with high-risk people – including elderly or those with health conditions – should carefully consider what to do about child arrangements at this time. Ensuring you are taking all steps to maintain your child’s health as well as those surrounding the child is vital, and you should therefore use your judgement on whether your existing arrangement is appropriate.
My ex-spouse/partner won’t let me see my child, what can I do?
This is a stressful and challenging time for everyone, and nobody wants to feel like they are helpless when it comes to their child. If the other parent is refusing to share custody or access as agreed/ordered, there should be a clear and valid reason – whether it is for medical purposes or self-isolation. However, if this is not the case, then any existing arrangements should be followed.
If your ex-spouse stops both physical and virtual contact, you may be able to make an application to the court. If you are considering enforcing an existing Order or looking to make an application for a new Order, please note the Courts are only dealing with urgent applications but please do get in touch with one of our specialist family lawyers for clear and sympathetic legal advice about what you can do at this time.
Contact our Family Lawyers in Donegal today
Family issues are never easy, but under the current restrictions, they can feel even more complex. Access agreements are put in place to keep a child in contact with each parent, to encourage normality to their daily routine. If you are concerned your ex-spouse or partner is not following through with your exiting agreement/Order dealing with access and custody at this time without reason, speak with one of our friendly family lawyers today on 074 9890190 or by completing the online enquiry form.
This guide does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If you require specific legal advice you should contact one of our lawyers who can advise you based on your own circumstances.
Please note this information is accurate as of 1 May 2020 and is subject to change as official guidance is adapted to reflect the implications of the virus.