COVID-19 is causing increased tension for LGBT+ co-parents across the country, as they contend with child arrangements such as contact and home-schooling whilst managing work issues and financial security.
At these unprecedented times, it is important that families know they are not alone in the pressures they are feeling and are aware of their rights so that they can protect themselves and their children.
How are LGBT+ families being affected by COVID-19?
The pandemic is having a dramatic effect on LGBT+ parents as the implications of the latest government measures on self-isolation and lockdown are being felt widely.
- Families with separated parents are having to navigate the government lockdown rules whilst ensuring that
children still move between the two homes.
- For parents who are expecting children via international surrogacy, the travel restrictions are causing problems for
UK intended parents travelling to their jurisdiction and thereafter obtaining birth certificates and passports whilst those
government departments are closed.
- For those at the start of their surrogacy journey, they will have been affected by the ceasing of fertility treatment
meaning their journey to parenthood is now put on hold.
If you are a family affected by the pandemic, you may find the following information helpful:
Child arrangements issued by court order
The Government has confirmed that, for those with a court order, the transfer of children under the age of 18 between households, is permissible under the new stay at home guidance.
The guidance states: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.” This is helpful for LGBT+ co-parents in that it provides certainty that they are permitted to drop off and pick up their children without breaching current restrictions.
Child arrangements by agreement
As with child arrangements made by an order, the guidance remains the same; where possible, parents should stick to agreed child arrangements that are in place and are permitted to move their children between households without breaching government measures.
What are the implications for contact centres?
As a result of the recent announcements, contact centres across the country will now remain closed until further notice meaning facilitated handovers and contact sessions are not possible. If this is applicable to you, unfortunately, for the time being, this form of contact will have to stop.
What happens if a parent behaves unreasonably?
The recent guidance issued by the President of the Family Division has clarified that one parent may unilaterally alter agreed or ordered arrangements if they consider it in the child’s best interests bearing in mind the current pandemic. This is a radical departure from stated law and designed to prevent the clogging up of the court system at this difficult time.
However, he makes it clear that if the other parent does not agree with that decision and the matter is brought back to court at a later date, that parent’s actions will be scrutinised for reasonableness.
If the parent affected cannot accept the decisions of the other parent or wait for the matter to be dealt with after the pandemic is over, a court application can still be made.
However, the courts are only dealing with urgent children matters and getting a hearing will largely depend on the caseload of the particular presiding judge.
What will happen if the Government regulations get stricter - how do you decide which parent has the right to childcare in these circumstances?
If the Government tightens measures on lockdown over the coming weeks, then the above advice will need to be reviewed in light of any updated guidance.
It would be anticipated, however, that even if the restrictions do tighten, an exception for the movement of children between separated homes is likely to be made. If not, then there is a risk that a child will need to remain with whichever parent they are with when the restrictions are tightened.
What actions do you suggest parents make over the coming weeks?
Parents should always consider what is in the best interests of their child when making these decisions. Communication and understanding in these unprecedented times will be key. If you have any concerns around coronavirus then be open with your co-parent about these concerns and discuss together ways in which those fears can be alleviated.
If contact cannot proceed as usual then make sure you have considered any “make up” time for when children can see both parents again and, whilst the pandemic is ongoing, make
use of the technology so that the absent parent can continue to have indirect contact through video calls.
Ultimately, agreed arrangements should continue as normal save for when there are concerns over health and safety or until the government advice changes.
We Are Here to Help
At A City Law Firm, we are very proud to be Listed in the Legal 500 for our proactive approach to Alternative Family structures and for our founder being given Freedom of the City for her contribution to equality.
As well as being awarded best employment team by Solicitor’s Journal due to our transgender and surrogacy discrimination cases, we also assist clients on the full range of family law matters.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised here and would like to speak to a solicitor for some advice, we are here to help. Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling 0207 426 0382 to find out more.