Family Court Arrangements & Coronavirus Update
Your Questions Answered: Family Court Arrangements and the Coronavirus
During these unprecedented times, many Family Court users have questions about how their matter will be dealt with following the Covid-19 outbreak.
The President of the Family Division has released this guidance which will assist Family Court users, and which is summarised below.
At Woollcombe Yonge, we have a dedicated specialist family team who are dealing with clients with the below issues on their minds. Whilst the below is offered to give some generic guidance, advice will depend on an individual’s circumstances. If you do require independent legal advice, please call on 01752 660384 and ask to speak to a member of the family team.
Q: I have an upcoming hearing on my family matter, will this still be going ahead?
The most recent guidance from the Lord Chief Justice (here) states that all hearings must now be conducted remotely (such as by Skype or telephone), unless the requirements of justice and fairness require a physically attended hearing. If, in these circumstances, it is safe to attend a court building, a physically attended hearing can take place.
If your hearing is taking place remotely, and you are a litigant in person (i.e. you do not have a solicitor or barrister representing you), the court will make the arrangements for the hearing to take place remotely. Court staff will inform you at least 24 hours prior to the hearing what you need to do.
In a private law case where you have legal representation, your solicitor will make the necessary arrangements and inform you and the other party of the arrangements. If one party has a solicitor and the other one does not, the party with legal representation will be responsible for making the arrangements and passing on the relevant information.
In public law cases, the Local Authority will make the required arrangements and will confirm these to the legal representatives as soon as possible. The arrangements will then be passed on to clients.
Clients will be encouraged to join the hearing via Skype or telephone where necessary.
Q: My child is subject to a Child Arrangements Order; how can I be expected to comply with the terms of the order during the stay at home period?
Government guidance issued on 23 March states ‘Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’. This is therefore an exception to the stay at home requirement currently in force. However, parents should assess the circumstances before moving the child between homes, considering the child’s health and the health of other individuals within their main household.
Parents are welcome to exercise their parental responsibility to vary the terms of a Child Arrangements Order. If they do this, they should record the agreement in an agreed note, email or similar.
If parents do not agree to vary the terms of the order, then parents can exercise their parental responsibility to vary the arrangement to one that is considered to be safe, in light of the current advice issued by Public Health England. If these actions are questioned following the event, by either the other parent or the Family Court, the court is likely to consider whether each parent acted sensibly considering the official advice and the rules in force at the time.
If a child is unable to spend time with a parent as per the terms set down in the Child Arrangements Order, a parent will be well advised to make alternative arrangements so a child can have contact remotely via Skype/ WhatsApp/ Zoom or similar.
Q: The Local Authority have indicated they are issuing care proceedings in respect of my children. Will this be delayed due to the Stay at Home measures currently in place?
Local Authorities will continue to issue care proceedings where there is need to do so. It is likely that hearings to deal with the application will be heard remotely, as above. Facilities can be set up to enable clients to speak with their legal representative to give instructions. If the application is opposed, parties may be required to give evidence. Efforts are being made to establish if it is possible for witness evidence to be given remotely. This is being kept under review.
Q: I need advice regarding a family law issue, what can I do?
You can still access advice even during the ‘Stay at Home’ period. The family team at Woollcombe Yonge can be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (01752 660384) . The team would be happy to talk to you about your issue and offer some advice. You may qualify for legal aid, and our legal aid lawyers will be able to do an eligibility check on the phone with you.
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