A leading judge has told divorced and separated parents to allow children to use video call apps such as Skype and Zoom if child access arrangements can’t be maintained due to Covid-19 crisis.
Although court access orders should still be adhered to, District Court president Colin Daly said restrictions put in place by the Government meant the detail of every access order “may not be full implementable”.
The judge said it was acceptable for parents to temporarily vary the access arrangements, provided this was done by agreement.
He also said that where a child does not get to spend normal access time with a parent, the court would expect contact to be maintained regularly by video calls or over the phone.
Judge Daly’s intervention came after prominent family law solicitor Keith Walsh revealed last week that the crisis was being used by some parents to wrongly deny their former partner access to their children.
Legal advice charity FLAC also said it had had been receiving calls from separated parents looking for advice on whether people needed to follow through on access orders at a time when they are supposed to be staying at home as much as possible.
Although the Department of Justice advised that court orders must be complied with, Judge Daly’s statement indicates the situation is nuanced and that it is acceptable to vary access arrangement where both side can agree on this.
The judge said concerns about health had left people confused and uncertain about the steps to take in relation to family law court orders in matters such as access, maintenance and guardianship.
He said the health of parents, their children and the extended family needed to be considered when sorting out arrangements.
“As parents, if you agree that the arrangements set out in a court order should be temporarily varied you are free to do so,” he said.
He said both sides should make a note of the agreement by way of email or text message.
“Where a child, by agreement, does not get to spend their usual time with their parent, the court will expect that contact is established and maintained regularly,” he said.
“Using video technologies such as Skype, Zoom, What’s App or Face-Time might help, and if that is not possible telephone conversations should be arranged.
“These current restrictions mean that the detail of every access order may not be full implementable, but as parents you should make every effort to allow your child to continue access in a safe, alternative way.”
Guidance issued by the Law Society’s child and family law committee also highlighted the importance of a common sense approach prevailing in relation to access in the current climate.
“Parents must be vigilant to ensure they communicate positively with each other and make sure that they keep each other updated regarding the health of the child and their own health,” it said.
The committee advised that where a court order is in place, this should be complied with to the greatest degree possible in the circumstances.
It said that if there is no court order in place and an arrangement has been working between the parents, this should continue, if possible.
“The health and safety of children and family, especially the elderly, grandparents and those with an underlying medical condition, must be a priority.
“There should be no contact with grandparents and any person with an underlying medical condition.
“If one parent is living with his/her parents every effort should be made to ensure the grandparents are not put at risk, even if it means access has to be varied or suspended for the duration of the current health crisis.
“If a child has a compromised immune system, the health and safety of the child has to take precedence and all measures must be taken to protect the child. The best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.”