Posted on Tuesday March 31, 2020
It is astonishing how rapidly those things we take for granted have altered, and this, together with the uncertainty as to how long this will continue, is causing alarm amongst some.
Clearly, the impact varies depending on your circumstances. Below are some thoughts on issues which have been raised with me by clients recently:
There is little doubt that the continuing effects of self-isolation will produce stress for many families. All the more so given the financial uncertainties which are connected to this as a result of employment either ceasing or being uncertain. Many people have a happy routine of work, home and leisure. All of this has now been suspended, apparently indefinitely. Self-isolation brings some particular stresses. As noted, there is the financial/economic issue, but there is also the additional issue of spending so many hours, essentially doing very little. It remains to be seen the effect this will have on individuals and on relationships generally. Much will depend on the duration of any self-isolation and/or related enforced home working.
School closures: while the Government announced on 20 March 2020 a list of sectors in relation to key workers, this plainly, by definition, does not cover everyone. For some children and families there is the added uncertainty of the cancellation of the GCSE/A Level exams and, related to this, in particular the predicament of A Level students, what their grades will be, whether they will attain a university place or, indeed, will they have to retake or defer for 12 months and sit these exams in 2021?
Child arrangements: I know from years of professional experience that Court Orders which set out the future child arrangements are often a starting point, which requires reasonableness and cooperation to work effectively.
I often say to clients that the difference between an informal arrangement and a Court Order is the enforceability of a Court Order. That is, in the event that one parent fails to do what the Order requires of them, there can be sanctions imposed by a Court.
However, at this time, I suspect few Courts will show any inclination whatsoever to engage in punitive measures in respect of parents who justifiably may say that it is not appropriate for their children to travel and spend time with the other parent.
While that may be an extremely common sense approach, clearly also current technology allows us to reach out in ways previously undreamed of. So, C19 is no reason in and of itself in my view, for all contact between a parent and child they do not live with from stopping. Instead, imagination, creativity and good communication are required.
This approach is set out in the judicial guidance dated 24th March:
Communities helping themselves: I know from personal experience also that many streets are organising themselves in ways which assist each other. For example, those in Mayfield Avenue are organising their street according to needs via WhatsApp and such groups.
In other areas, in Acton for example, many residents are setting up WhatsApp groups to assist organising shopping and such like.
This level of communication and cooperation will undoubtedly assist those who are most vulnerable. I would suggest that, if there are parents reading this who are unsure as to how to manage this situation, they should adopt a similar cooperative approach. If issues relating to child arrangements, in particular, persist then plainly, when the circumstances alter and normal service is resumed so to speak, there will be potential sanctions for a parent who is clearly not being cooperative.