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Contact Arrangements and Covid 19 – Advice for Parents and Carers post 17 January 2022

From Monday 17 January 2022, the 10-day self-isolation period for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 has now been reduced to 5 full days in most cases.

It is known that two-thirds of people are not infectious after five dull days of isolation and so the new self-isolation changes enable more people to return to work or school sooner than before and the new rules hope to try and strike a balance between minimising the spread of the virus against trying to have as many non-infectious people as possible permitted to go about their ‘normal’ lives and return to work, education and go back to earlier arrangements they might have had in place for family time earlier.

Given the recent changes, parents might be helped to think about the following questions.

Should my child still travel between parents as per a Court Order?

Since the early stages of the pandemic, the Government clarified that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes; nothing from the recent changes announce changes the earlier guidance.

The President of the Family Division issued advice about compliance with child arrangement orders during the early stages of Covid and this states that whilst children can be moved still between separated parents, it does not mean that children must be moved between homes.

As before, in all cases, the decision about whether a child should move between parental homes is in the first instance for the child’s parents to make in the best interests of the child following an 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. Factors such as whether any persons are double vaccinated or have had a booster jab may be relevant to decision making.

If for example you are concerned that your child has a pre-existing health condition, you’re pregnant, or someone in your household has a health condition that makes them vulnerable to the impact of the virus still notwithstanding any vaccination then you should follow the updating Public Health England medical advice.

It may also help to consider the Cafcass advice on effective co-parenting during a pandemic for further guidance on complying with a Child Arrangements Order but please note that this advice has not at all been updated since 20 March 2020 and must therefore be read in light of recent changes as from 17 January 2022 and later.

Should my child still travel between parents if the child – or someone in their household – has or might have Covid?

If your child or someone in their household has contracted Covid or they are displaying any of the symptoms associated with it, then the guidance listed on the Government health advice website remains that they should be self-isolating and should not be transferring between households. This may therefore provide a reasonable explanation to give for not adhering to arrangements however in accordance with best advice and guidance, if any arrangements are missed, then it may be appropriate for any contact lost to be made up at a later date or contact re-arranged in the alternative.

There is a Court Order in place for contact but this isn’t being kept to on the basis that Covid is an issue, what should I do?

If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place then it’s important for both parents and any carer to try and comply with the Order as directed unless you agree to change the arrangements by consent.

For example, in some cases you both might decide it’s best for a child to stay with the other parent for a little while longer than usual if one parent is a key worker. When arrangements are changed for whatever reason, which is usually permitted so long as they are agreed to be all, it is recommended that the change in the arrangements is put in writing and evidenced say by you both signing that change so as to show that this was an alternative arrangement different to what the Court earlier ordered that you both agreed with.

The general point to make is that as parents and holders of parental responsibility, you can change child contact arrangements between yourselves with consent if you are worried that the order would go against Government advice relating to Covid but if you make changes to the arrangements without agreement from your child’s other parent there is a risk they could choose to make an application to the Court to enforce the terms of the original order and if this happens, the Court be asked to look at whether your actions were at all reasonable and sensible in all of the circumstances; if you intend at all to rely upon any change on the grounds of it being related to Covid, you should be able to show that your decision making was based on the applicable Government health advice and guidance at the relevant time you make any change to arrangements without consent.

Where face to face contact is not possible it’s helpful to think about other ways for family time with young people to take place; nothing prevents still telephone contact from taking place or video calls via Facetime or Whatsapp from being attempted and whilst it may seem old fashioned in comparison to the modern alternatives such as email, nothing prevents still an exchange of letters as a direct alternative to face to face arrangements.

If as a parent you are concerned to make any changes and don’t have consent of the other parent to do so, then it is highly advisable that you seriously consider making an application to vary the terms of the existing Order so as to avoid enforcement action being taken on any alleged breach of court order.

If you require legal advice on any of the issues raised by this article relating to Child Arrangements then please do not hesitate to contact Andrew Wraith, Solicitor, at Prism Family Law for more information on 0191 269 6871 or email Andrew.Wraith@prismfamilylaw.co.uk for help.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

Divorcing couples continue to ignore pensions, Which? finds

According to a recent survey conducted by Which? Magazine in November 2021, women, in particular, continue to face unstable retirement as pensions are often overlooked when dealing with financial matters arising from divorce.

Of those surveyed, only 15% of divorcing couples are said to have specifically included pensions in their financial settlement and 58% said that pensions were not at all discussed during their divorce proceedings. The survey was carried out in November 2021.

When people divorce it is natural for those involved to focus on the immediate problems that arise – for example, where you and any children are going to live, and what you are going to live on, so it is to a certain extent understandable that following separation pensions can often get forgotten but what is often not realised, until it is too late, is that pensions ae usually the single biggest asset for divorcing couples; according to the Office of National Statistics, in many cases, pension provision can make up to 42% of total household wealth.

Whilst pensions are often seen as being complicated, dull, and not something that can be readily got at so as to be of immediate help and so often they might be forgotten about and left to one side to think about then later, ignoring them completely can be a costly mistake to make.

Despite then the Family Court allowing now for pension sharing orders to be made as provided for by the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, it seems still to be the case that pensions aren’t always taken into account when dividing up matrimonial assets.

In many cases, what happens to the family home or family business is more often than not likely to be at the forefront of people’s minds on divorce, but choosing the family home over a pension sharing order can leave former spouses with desperately little income in retirement – particularly women.

Women losing out on pension wealth is very unequally distributed among married men and women. A recent study undertaken by the University of Manchester shows the average married woman aged between 65-69 has just £28,000 in pension wealth – whereas the average man has almost ten times that. So based on that study and recent poll by Which?, a divorce where pensions aren’t split can leave women significantly worse-off financially.

So in relation to pensions on divorce, what are the options?

  • Offsetting Pension – offsetting is where one person keeps their pension in exchange for giving up another financial asset, such as the family home or some other financial interest (say in a business).

Advantages – This approach is relatively straightforward and would allow more easily for the parties to achieve a financial clean break on all matters sooner rather than later.

Disadvantages – The party who forfeits the other’s pension may lose out – fair comparisons between pension and non-pension assets are extremely problematic and often requires careful consideration and in some instances, expert pension valuation reports to assist with.

  • Pension sharing order – With pension sharing, a percentage of one person’s pension is transferred to the other.

Advantages – Both parties end up with their own separate pension provision and pot.

Disadvantages – It’s relatively complex initially to determine what the percentage split should be, so in many cases, your best advised to seek truly independent financial advice as to what is the best option for you as often that share of the pension has to be transferred to another pension provider and all of that can come at a separate cost.  You may need specialist advice on what then the pension is worth such as to then work out what is a fair percentage split and again this may involve expert help and so separate cost to consider.

  • Pension attachment order/earmarking – This is when one person pays an income or lump sum to the other when they start taking their pension.

Advantages – Like pension sharing above, it can result in a fairer split of the pension.

Disadvantages – An attachment order is essentially a form of maintenance paid to the former spouse, so it doesn’t allow for a true financial clean break and the pension-holder retains control over the choice of investments and when the payments to their ex-partner are made; if the Order is not at all complied with as intended, then this may later require enforcement proceedings to be initiated and so this may then result in additional costs later being incurred to resolve.

Before embarking then on any exercise in relation to the separation of your financial assets on divorce, it is important not to make decisions about what should happen with other assets like the family home before you know what all your pensions are worth; if you overlook them, how will you manage when you can no longer work?

It might feel as though any pension that has been accrued by an ex-partner belongs to them, but when you are married or in a civil partnership any and all pensions are part of the matrimonial pot, regardless of whose name is on the pension plan.

A pension can only ever be in one person’s name and often that person will see it as theirs and only theirs, especially if they built it up over a long career. However, in many families, it is often decided that one parent will take more responsibility for the care of the children while the other focuses on earning money or developing a career, giving that person more of an opportunity to establish a greater earning potential and so the ability to then establish a greater retirement pot.

So that it is clear to you, the law in such cases treats these contributions to the family as equal – so try not to view the pension as just your ex-partners or even just yours, it is one asset of potentially many that makes up the financial pot of the family.

Whilst pensions can then be difficult to sort out and so take time to look at, be it to value, to negotiate over or otherwise, sorting out your pensions when you divorce is in many cases worth the time and expense and worthy of not being ignored altogether.

In every case, you have to have an appreciation of what all the various pensions in your case are truly worth before agreeing to any terms of financial settlement. Whilst this may take time, it may even become a hassle to sort, but as hard as it may be at times be to address, ignoring pensions is likely to be costly.

If you require legal advice and help on any of the matters raised by this article then please do not hesitate to contact Andrew Wraith, Solicitor, at Prism Family law for more information on 0191 269 6871 or email Andrew.Wraith@prismfamilylaw.co.uk for help.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

Coronavirus (Covid-19), domestic abuse and violence

As more and more people are socially isolated by being in lockdown at home, for people who have experienced domestic abuse and or violence, social distancing and on-going Government guidance for everyone to work from and stay at home wherever possible, means that unfortunately for some, they are in turn being trapped to live with an abuser.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak poses dilemma for parents with child arrangement orders

With all schools on the verge of closing and with NHS advice being that people should observe social distancing and isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, those parents and others with Child Arrangements Orders in their favour to adhere to are undoubtedly asking themselves how best to deal with issues that now arise that make it difficult to comply with such arrangements.

How do you explain divorce to children?

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to fail. The end of a marriage typically unleashes a flood of emotions including then anger, grief, anxiety and fear. Sometimes, these feelings can rise up when you least expect them, catching you off guard. Such a response is normal, and over time, for adults, usually the intensity of the these feelings will then subside.

New family court in Newcastle upon Tyne

Work to bring the civil, family and tribunal hearings into one accessible building at the Civic Centre found in Newcastle city centre continues unabated. The new courthouse is expected to open by 2020.