One of the biggest challenges facing families during lockdown has been on the topic of childcare and access to children where the family has split up as a result of divorce or separation.

Many families are asking for guidance on what they can and cannot do under lockdown rules. Family solicitor Elizabeth Hughes answers the most common questions she is asked.

Am I allowed to see my children who live with my ex-partner during lockdown?

Yes.

Current lockdown restrictions allow for children to pass between the households of their parents and the journey for handover is permitted.

If your child develops symptoms, is self-isolating or is awaiting COVID test results you should notify the other parent as soon as possible and you might agree to make up any missed time at a later date.

I live alone and have formed a support bubble with my elderly mother.  Can this be a reason for my ex to stop me seeing my children?

No.

Support bubbles and childcare bubbles are two separate things.  Being in a support bubble does not stop you from being in a childcare bubble and vice versa.  However, you must avoid mixing the bubbles and cannot see members of your childcare bubble and support bubble at the same time.

I am currently furloughed and cannot afford to keep paying Child Support at the amount I have been paying.  Is there a way I can reduce my monthly payments?

Yes.

If your income has reduced, you may be legally justified in reducing your payments.

If you pay through the Child Maintenance Service, you should contact them directly as soon as possible.  If you have an informal agreement you should speak to your former partner to explain and see if an interim reduction can be agreed.

If your income has reduced, either as the payer or the payee, you may be eligible for benefits such as Universal Credits or benefit grants.

I am in an abusive relationship and worried about the effect of lockdown.  Is there anything I can do?

It is of paramount importance that if you ever feel you are at risk of immediate harm you contact 999.  We understand that reporting such incidents can be daunting, but you must put your own, and any children’s safety first.

There are also support agencies that are continuing to operate during this time. For example, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

Courts remain open and in full operation and there are orders, such as non-molestation orders and occupation orders, that can be obtained on an urgent application basis.  These can be drafted and applied for without the abuser knowing.

I heard in the news that due to Covid-19 the Courts may be closing as they are short staffed.  My marriage has broken down and I want to issue a Divorce Petition.  Do I have to wait until everything gets back to normal?

The Family Court remains fully operational.  Applications can still be issued, many online.  Hearings are continuing but may be remote via telephone or video conferencing rather than in person.  Some essential in person hearings are taking place with appropriate safety measures.

Our contributor

Elizabeth Hughes

Solicitor

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