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Separated parents 'wrongly denied access to children over virus fears'

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Backtrack: Michael Gove faced criticism over his initial comments

Backtrack: Michael Gove faced criticism over his initial comments

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The Covid-19 crisis is being used as an excuse to wrongly deny divorced or separated parents access to their children.

Although significant restrictions have been introduced to limit the spread of the virus, they do not include any prohibition on access to children by a parent who no longer lives in the same household.

The Department of Justice told the Irish Independent that as things stand, court orders must be adhered to.

But leading family law solicitor Keith Walsh said he and colleagues were seeing cases where fathers, in particular, were being denied access to their children by their former spouse or partner, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns.

"In some cases, people are using this to their own perceived advantage," he said.

"Where there was an inclination to deny access to the father, that is now happening a bit more."

Legal advice charity FLAC said the issue had been raised in calls it received in recent days.

Paul Joyce, a senior policy analyst with FLAC, said it was being asked for advice on whether people needed to follow through on access orders at a time when they are supposed to be staying at home and not making unnecessary journeys.

Confusion over the issue sparked controversy in the UK earlier this week when one of its cabinet ministers, Michael Gove, suggested children should not be travelling between different houses.

However, he quickly backtracked to say it was permissible.

A Government source said the restrictions in place in Ireland do not stop children from seeing their parents.

The Department of Justice said it had been informed by the Courts Service that, as things stand, court orders must be adhered to.

It said the Courts Service was considering how best to provide information on queries relating to the enforcement of court orders in the context of current social distancing guidelines.

The department also said it had asked the Law Society to consider how it may be able to assist in terms of general guidance.

Mr Walsh, a member of the Law Society's child and family law committee, said in his view access should go ahead "provided the social distancing guidelines are maintained by the parents and provided there is no inherent vulnerability on either side". He said there would need to be "a really strong medical reason" for access to not go ahead.

Mr Walsh also said he feared parents who are wrongly denied access would have to wait months for the courts to intervene. He said while domestic violence was considered a priority by the courts, other family law matters such as access and maintenance were considered "non-emergency" issues and can take several months to remedy.

Irish Independent


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