I am worried about the health risks of sending my child to contact with their other parent. How do I communicate that I wish to temporarily halt direct contact? (COVID-19)

If you have made the decision to stop direct contact, it is important that you inform your co-parent in writing via email, text message or some other means of communication.

If both parents cannot agree on a variation of the terms of the Order, but you feel that complying with the terms would be against advice from the NHS, you can decide to vary the arrangement to ensure the safety of your child.

Bear in mind that such a decision could be examined after the event by the Family Court, which expects the parent to have acted reasonably and according to current guidance. It will be expected that another form of indirect contact would be offered at this point.

If I have a Contact Order but am not being permitted contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, what can I do?

Technically, a parent with a Contact Order is at liberty to issue contempt proceedings if they are denied contact. In the current circumstances however, the Court may not be in a position to deal with the application and it might prove difficult to determine that the breach was not justifiable. Parents must act reasonably and sensibly in light of the official Stay at Home guidance. It is therefore important to consider whether face to face contact is in the best interests of the child or if contact would be more safely carried out via video calls for example.

What if my child/someone in my household qualifies as high risk during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If someone in your household qualifies as high risk (e.g. has an existing health condition, is pregnant or is over 65 years old), it is important that you follow the advice provided by NI Direct Government Services in relation to staying at home and self-isolating – in this scenario, you should find other ways of maintaining contact, such as phone calls or video calls.

Can I still see my child during lockdown if we don’t live in the same household?

Children are permitted to move between parents’ houses for the purpose of contact. However, the guidance states that the decision to do this must be made carefully and after making “a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.”