At the best of times, it is an extremely stressful time for couples who are going through a relationship breakdown with child access agreements. Throw a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown into the mix, and that stress increases a hundredfold.
Parents must be offered some guidance during this exceptionally worrying and trying time for child access agreements.
The Family and Child Law Committee has issued guidelines, and in recent days the COVID19 Steering group said guidance might be updated as the situation evolves with time.
1. The guidelines are designed to help clarify the situation of child access during this pandemic. If you are experiencing family law difficulties should always consult with their solicitor for advice specific to their particular set of circumstances.
2. Common sense should prevail concerning Access at this time. As always, parents should do their utmost to communicate in a positive manner and keep each other updated about their health and the health of their children.
If there is a Court Order in place in respect of Access, then this should be complied with to the greatest extent possible. The President of the District Court, Judge Colin Daly has stated that current restrictions mean that the detail of every access order may not be fully implementable, but as parents, you should make every effort to allow your child to continue Access in a safe, alternative way.
Closer to home, at Ennis District Court, Judge Mary Larkin heard of how a father had been denied Access to his son for several weeks in breach of an existing Access Order. As reported in the Irish Times, the child’s mother used the restrictions in place due to COVID19 as an excuse for denying Access and breaching the Court Order. Judge Larkin made it very clear that the breach of Court ordered Access may result in severe consequences for the offending parent.
These examples have made it clear Covid19 is not an excuse to ignore a Court Order.
3. Some parents are concerned that they may not be allowed to travel to avail of Access. Regulations signed by Minister Simon Harris last week, namely the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid 10) Regulations SI 121 of 2020 specifically deal with this issue and recognise the giving effect to access arrangements as a valid reason for travel. If there is an Access Order in place, it is advisable to carry a copy of the Court Order with you when travelling for Access.
4. If there is no Court Order in place, but a pre-existing arrangement has been working between parents, then this should also continue to the highest degree possible. That being said, the health and safety of children and family members must take centre stage. If one parent is living with an elderly relative, then every effort should be made not to put grandparents or other elderly relatives at risk.
5. Child Access with parents working in frontline services should continue as usual, except in exceptional circumstances.
6. If a child has an underlying medical condition or a compromised immune system, the health of the child has to take precedence. The best interests and the health and safety of children must be the paramount consideration. Parents and third parties should continue to Social distance and follow the HSE guidelines concerning non-interaction. Parents should give each other assurances that they will comply with the rules and guidelines in this regard.
7. Technology such as telephone, skype, WhatsApp and facetime can facilitate Access. Now is the time to be innovative and creative in respect of the use of technology to ensure Access continues. Even if there is a Court Order in place, parents can come to their own arrangements for additional or alternative remote contact, such as telephone/Skype/Facetime/WhatsApp, to allow children to have extensive contact with the other parent. Parents should make a note of this temporary agreement by text or email to your solicitor.
8. The Courts are still dealing with urgent cases involving domestic violence and vulnerable people. Applications for breach of Access are not generally considered to be urgent, but there may be exceptional cases, and your solicitor will advise you in this regard. If you have a solicitor, you should contact him/her.
If you are experiencing a relationship breakdown, access issues or any other Family Law situation, contact me at Cahir & Co Solicitors. It is vital to get expert advice that is current in these uncertain times.
Call myself or William Cahir solicitor with your queries on separating or commencing your divorce. I can be contacted at aislingcarr@cahirsolicitors.