CORONAVIRUS: What it means for Family law firms.

On 23 March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown ordering people to stay at home except for a limited set of purposes. It was announced that these measures are in place for at least three weeks and they will be reviewed afterwards, where they are likely to be extended.

At London Family Solicitor, our priority is the safety of our team, our clients and the local community. We have therefore moved our team to a home-based working model and will be ceasing all face to face contact in an attempt to limit interactions in accordance with guidance.

We would like to reassure you that our phone line (020 3865 1535) will still be operating and as a team, we are here to continue to advise and support you in your family matters.

With this being said, the coronavirus pandemic and the current nationwide lockdown will have a profound effect on all aspects of family law, and we would like to take this opportunity to offer some clarity in this confusing time.

Court Closures:

In the ordinary course of family litigation in claims such as financial or childcare disputes, the parties are expected to attend court hearings in person, along with legal representation such as barristers.

All hearings in person have now ceased and depending on the court’s technology, cases will be heard via video link, telephone, or postponed to a later date.

Judges will continue to deal with priority proceedings which involve the immediate liberty, health, safety and wellbeing of individuals. In relation to family proceedings, these involve:

1. Non-Molestation Orders;

2. Applications under the Children (NI) Order 1995 such as Care Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders, Emergency Protection Orders and Secure Accommodation Orders,

3. Declaratory judgments in patients’ cases;

4. Child Abduction.

Natalie Friday who is the principal of the firm has conducted a Non-Molestation order hearing this week by phone. The client did not need to attend as the statement we prepared was concise and had the relevant evidence included. An ex parte non molestation order was made. Natalie found this to be a very swift way to deal with this matter.

For further guidance and advice for court users during the coronavirus outbreak, HM Courts & Tribunal Service have prepared a useful guide which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-courts-and-tribunals-pl...

Child Care Arrangements:

The Government’s guidance, and instructions, are for us all to stay at home and only leave the house for extremely limited purposes, these are:

1. Shopping for basic necessities;

2. one form of exercise per day;

3. any medical need; and

4. travelling for work purposes in instances where you cannot work from home.

Initially, it was unclear whether a child moving between their parents’ house would be allowed under these new rules. The Government confirmed on March 24 that any child under the age of 18 moving between their parents’ home was considered to be an exception to these rules.

Therefore, where it is safe to do so i.e. no-one in either of the households are showing symptoms then a child can maintain their usual contact arrangements with their parents and are encouraged to do so.

The terms of any Child Arrangement Order should be complied with during this period of lockdown, unless it becomes unsafe to do so.

It is common for Child Arrangement Orders to set out the contact arrangements for children and their parents during term time and non-term time. The announcement of school closures obviously complicates matters as although children are ‘off’ school, it is very likely that they will have work schoolwork to complete.

For some parents, it may be suitable for the Child Arrangement Order to continue in its current form as this will offer much needed stability for the child. However, it may be that a parent is a ‘key-worker’ and therefore unable to care for the children whilst they are off school. As such, some parents may decide that the ‘non-term time arrangements’ are in the best interests of the child.

If a parent is unable to have contact with the child, for example if they are displaying symptoms and self-isolating, it is still strongly encouraged that the child still has regular contact with that parent; there are numerous ways that contact can be maintained such as Zoom, Facetime and Skype.

Blane Barton is a Family Paralegal at London Family Solicitor.

Email: bb@london-family-solicitor.co.uk
Phone: 0203 865 1535
Twitter: @LondonFamilySol

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