Coronavirus and Access Arrangements for Children

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By our Family Law expert, Deirdre Burke

Many clients are contacting me to ask about the Coronavirus and access arrangements for children in separated or divorced families.  They are concerned about the impact the current Coronavirus social restrictions may have on Child Access Orders or Agreements. My simple advice to people in this situation is as follows:

  • Public health, and the health and safety of your children and family members must come first.
  • This is a time-limited event only, and will not impact on access arrangements in the long term.
  • In general, where access is between the children and their parent, then this access can and should proceed as normal. However, each parent will want to abide by HSE guidelines for safe social interaction of the children with others. This may mean limiting the children’s contact with extended members of the family, particularly elderly relatives
  • If the access order relates to Grandparents Access, then there may be merit in suspending this access for the moment if the grandparents are in any way frail, or vulnerable. In my experience however, most “grandparent clients” who I have worked for, are in the younger age bracket, fit and healthy. So there should be no reason to cease this access in such circumstances, as long as safety guidelines are followed.
  • Special consideration should be given to specific or critical health needs e.g. if a parent or a child has an underlying medical condition. Access may need to be varied or suspended in these cases. See HSE advice here for those who are particularly at risk.
  • Special consideration should be also given to the location of access. If access is to take place in a public venue, then this venue may need to be changed as a short-term measure. This may be unavoidable if the guidelines for social distancing cannot be met. If this is not possible, then access may need to be temporarily suspended during the restriction period.
  • Communication is key. Talk to the other parent and put the children’s needs first. This is not a time to seek to enforce “rights” simply for the sake of it. A sensible co-operative approach will ensure that health and safety is respected, without in any way damaging relationships.
  • If direct access needs to be temporarily suspended, consider using FaceTime or Skype to ensure that the children still have essential, but safe, interaction with their other parent.

We recommend you follow the HSE guidelines on protecting yourself and others from the spread of the virus. See details here.

For HSE updates and details of the Government’s measures and restrictions announced on 12th March 2020, click here.

For details of changes to court sittings or services due to COVID-19, see here

If you have any questions about the coronavirus and access arrangements for children, please call me on 01 637 6200 or email me at deirdre.burke@orpenfranks.ie

In light of the potential spread of COVID-19 Orpen Franks is exploring what steps are needed to ensure an uninterrupted service to our clients and colleagues.  This may mean that we will have to instruct our staff to work remotely for a period.  We request that all communications are therefore sent to us electronically so that we will be in a position to receive and respond to same. Thank you for your co-operation.

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