Helping separated parents access their children during lockdown
Distressed parents whose legal rights around access to their children were not settled before the lockdown began are being urged to think creatively about their current options, because legal decisions on most cases will be delayed when normality resumes, according to a family law expert.
Rayner Grice, Partner and head of Birmingham family team said: “Family Courts are running on limited hearings at the moment so many cases in the system will be pushed back even further and it’s likely to be several more months before the Court can start to deal with what will sadly, in the majority of these cases, be considered non-urgent work.
“For those not seeing their children this will seem extremely unfair and the impact on the children will be far-reaching in terms of their emotional wellbeing.
“But the good news is there are alternative approaches that affected families can consider – there are options available to re-start these cases and progress them to final determination, so long as both parties are in agreement and there are no welfare concerns.
“Provided there are no safeguarding issues then it is possible for cases to be determined by an arbitrator.
“The case would be dealt with in exactly the same way as would happen at Court in terms of the evidence that would be required, including consideration of a welfare report which may be required to provide recommendations on for example, the amount of time a child should share between parents, a decision on schooling or even a change of name.
“The only difference is that instead of the case being determined by a bench of Magistrates or a Judge in a Court setting, parents will jointly appoint an arbitrator and choose a suitable venue on a day that is mutually convenient.
“If there is a concern that whatever decision is made will not be complied with in the future, the decision of the arbitrator can be recorded within an Order that is then approved by the Court.
“If your case is suitable for arbitration the benefits are significant: you will have control over who decides you case, your case will be the only thing being dealt with that day, your arbitrator will have had time to read all of the papers well in advance, and your case will be finalised that day.
“When compared to the risk of waiting several months before the court can deal with your matter this seems like a very attractive option.
“Mediation is also still a possibility so if, for example, you are part-way through proceedings and are just trying to deal with, say, a progression of contact from short periods of overnight stays to more lengthy periods of holiday contact, this is something that a mediator could assist with. Again any agreement reached could be recorded in an Order to give the parties protection.
“The message therefore is all is not lost. If you need to make progress in relation to child access matters, and the willingness to do so is there on both sides, then there are options available away from the Court arena.”
If you require advice, please contact a member of our family law team. We also have offices in Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.