Lockdown disputes behind surge in child arrangement cases

Anita Scorah

Lawyers are seeing a surge in the number of disputes over child arrangements as parents wrangle over lockdown rules.

The family team at SAS Daniels said it is finding many parents in the region are unclear about how the specifics of lockdown should affect previous arrangements.

Cases include parents refusing to return children on the basis this falls within the definition of non-essential travel, and parents preventing children from visiting individuals who they believe are failing to follow lockdown guidance.

Where there has been previous dispute, child arrangement orders specify which parent the children will live with and when they will spend time with the other parent.

Under lockdown rules, children under 18 who live between parents in separate households, can continue to move from one home to another.

Anita Scorah, partner in the family team at SAS Daniels, said: “COVID-19 has added an additional layer of issues for separated parents.

“Many find themselves at odds over interpretation of the legislation and guidance.

“Often, despite having differing interpretations, both believe that they are acting in the best interest of the child, and whilst this may sound implausible, both may be right.

“There is potentially emotional damage caused by the curtailment of contact between a child and their father, yet contact between that parent and child could result in physical damage being caused to the child if that parent has not been following guidelines and passes the virus to the child as a result.”

She added: “Many disputes we’re hearing are based around each parent having a different perception of risk and attaching different weight to those risks.

“Fears over transmission are heightened when risk potentially extends to the vulnerable, such as grandparents who form part of the child’s childcare bubble.

“I have had experience of a Judge transferring primary care of a child from mother to father when it was found that the mother was ignoring lockdown rules by failing to limit the number of people entering her household.

“The court looked again at a pre-existing child arrangement order and swapped primary care to the safer parent.”

SAS Daniels has offices in Chester, Congleton, Macclesfield and Stockport.