Lawyers have been inundated with inquiries from divorced parents arguing about where their children should stay during the lockdown, with some trying to get their former partners sent to jail for breaking existing arrangements.
Some parents have been using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to stop their ex from seeing their children, withholding contact on spurious grounds including “my ex won’t be able to teach my child their times table”.
One woman asked her lawyer to apply to a judge to send her ex to prison after he failed to pick up their child for a regular visit – despite him having proof he wouldn’t have been able to get there “for any amount of money”. Another wanted her husband to go to jail after he took the children to a different address from that stipulated on their court order in order to shield vulnerable relatives at the usual home.
Many parents report their exes refusing to return children from visits, making their children so scared of catching the virus that they don’t want to see the other parent, and saying the child could not leave because the household was self-isolating with symptoms – only to post pictures on social media suggesting otherwise.
Others are saying that because their ex is one of the UK’s 7 million key workers they are at high risk of contracting coronavirus and therefore they don’t want their children with them.
When the UK lockdown came into force on Monday 23 March, the government appeared to have forgotten about children who split their time between separated parents.
A footnote was inserted into the guidance the following morning, clarifying that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division at the high court, issued guidance, saying he expected parents to “care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time”. Parents could be permitted to change the “letter” of any court order detailing their custody arrangements but not the spirit of them, he warned.
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