Appearing on The Andrew Pierce Show on Monday the 15th, Emma Gill, Director of Divorce and Head of our Manchester office, discussed the worrying trend of parents using Covid fears as an excuse to prevent their former partner from visiting their children. Her conversation with Andrew built upon comments she contributed for an article in the Daily Mail. Below, you can find a transcript of their discussion.
Are parents arguing that not respecting social distancing rules constitutes a reason to prevent contact?
Emma: “Absolutely and it [Covid fears] is very easily weaponised. We have all, of course, been following very strict rules and regulations for the past 12 months but the cross checks are almost non-existent. So, if a parent wants to create mischief or disruption, for example by saying that their bubble has to self-isolate because of exposure, there is almost nothing another parent can do to police that. Even where the circumstances haven’t actually arisen, the situation can be easily manipulated to deny the other party contact with their children.”
I imagine it is very difficult for the accused parent to refute it?
Emma: “Absolutely. The courts, as we are all well aware, are over burdened with these types of children cases and even before Covid, if you had a dispute between parents that couldn’t be resolved by agreement, it would often be a number of months before anyone saw the inside of a court room to receive some support.
“All Covid has done is push all of these deadlines back. Children cases with a statutory obligation to be heard, if the local authority is involved for instance, understandably take priority. This means that the everyday Jack and Jane are at the back of the queue and if they can’t agree about what should happen with their children, then one or the other is going to be the loser, with the children always losing the most.”
We’ve had lockdown on and off for a year. This means that this situation could go on for a long while more. By the time you would actually be able to take a case to court, do you think we will be well and truly out of lockdown?
Emma: “Absolutely – the tricky thing is, especially when you have very young children, three months is a very long time. So when you fast forward a year, say in the life a four-year-old, that is absolutely huge.
“My advice to any parent who doesn’t have the children with them for the majority of the time is to do what you can to maintain contact – even if you can’t see them face to face, use Facetime or video conferencing.
“We, including children, are very much more au fait with the technology now and anything you can do to put your face before your child is important. The traditional methods, such as sending a short letter or card, can be amazing for a child. If you do this, you should always make sure you take a photograph of it – there are those parents who will intercept the post. By taking a photo, when you do reconnect face to face, you can show that your focus was always on the importance of your child.”
For the excluded parent, could they try perhaps to see their child at the school gates or would that be inappropriate?
Emma: “I would never advise to try to see your children in a situation that hasn’t been pre-planned – it will almost always backfire. I have had situations where a headteacher is on the phone, my client on the other line and my opposite number calling because there has been a scuffle in the playground.
“In these situations, the person who suffers most is always the child – they need to be insulated from any adult dispute that is going on. Although it may be incredibly tempting, and if I was in that situation it would take every ounce of discipline to restrain myself, the child is always the one that will get hurt. Patience always wins in these cases: it is always a very slow burn and this is why being able to demonstrate to your child, and to the court, that you have played by the rules, that your focus has been the child and you have not been involved in the dirty tricks is so essential.”