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Court-ordered access to children for separated parents advised to continue during pandemic

The pandemic can’t be used as an “excuse to prevent separated parents having contact with their children”, the Law Society says.

Image: Shutterstock/NadyaEugene

COURT-ORDERED ACCESS for children of separated parents should continue to “the greatest degree possible” during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Law Society of Ireland has said. 

Guidance on issues of access during this period of restrictions on movement for separated parents and family law solicitors was published today by the Law Society, the representative and co-regulatory body for solicitors in Ireland.

Solicitor Helen Coughlan, chair of the group’s family and child law committee, said the pandemic cannot be used as an “excuse to prevent separated parents having contact with their children”. 

“The current health crisis has created some confusion and distress among the thousands of families where children routinely move between the homes of their separated parents every day and week across Ireland,” Coughlan said in a statement. 

“Court ordered access arrangements should be complied with to the greatest degree possible, or sensible alternatives should be agreed to allow parents to continue to have extensive access, for example via phone or video call, depending on the health considerations for each household.”

The guidelines are said to be in line with the position of the Department of Justice  and endorse the practice direction of the president of the District Court. 

Parents are advised to have a copy of their court order with them when travelling for access. 

In circumstances where no court order is in place, arrangements made between parents about access should continue in all but exceptional circumstances.  

“It is important that common sense prevails in relation to access, in the current climate.
The best outcome for children is for parents to contact each other to set out their
concerns and suggest ideas for practical solutions that can be put in place,” the advice from the Law Society says.

The guidance was prepared by family law practitioners and endorsed by the family and child law committee of the Law Society, the Family Lawyers Association and the Bar Council.

“The health concerns of parents, their children and the extended family need to be considered when sorting out arrangements,” the guidance says. 

It says that even when there is a court order in place, parents can come to their own arrangements for alternative access or remote contact such as phone calls or online video calls to give children “extensive contact” with the other parent. 

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“Parents should make a note of this temporary agreement by text or email,” the Law Society said. 

In instances where a parent lives with their own parents, every effort should be made to ensure the grandparents are not at risk during visits. 

Parents working in frontline services should continue access to children except in exceptional circumstances. 

For children who have compromised immune systems, their health and safety must take precedence and all measures must be taken to protect the child. 

“Parents should both engage in social distancing, abide by the rules concerning non-interaction with third parties, and the stay at home direction, and be able to give clear assurances in this regard,” the advice says. 

Court applications regarding breach of access will not generally be considered urgent at the moment, but the Law Society said there may be exceptional circumstances and advised contacting a solicitor in this instance.  

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