NI: Courts will consider reasonableness of actions during pandemic in future child contact order cases

NI: Courts will consider reasonableness of actions during pandemic in future child contact order cases

Naomi Long

Parents should feel “reassured” that the courts will consider the reasonableness of actions taken during the coronavirus pandemic when considering future child contact orders, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.

Northern Ireland’s health and justice ministers today highlighted guidance from the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, on contact between parents and children during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I understand this health emergency will be causing great concern for parents, particularly where their children would normally move between households or where contact is supported by social workers or contact centres.

“The key consideration at this difficult time must of course be the health and well-being of children and it is important that they continue to spend time with both parents in line with contact orders, unless doing so would put the child or others at risk.

“The mandatory stay at home direction does not apply to children moving between households. Parents can continue to share care of their children but every family is different and I would encourage parents to work together to assess their particular circumstances. Parents should consider the child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in homes children may be visiting.”

Where parents are concerned that maintaining face-to-face contact would place the child or others at risk, they can agree temporary changes without going back to court.

Changes should be in keeping with the spirit of existing court orders and may include contact taking place remotely by telephone or using online tools.

Online tools will be particularly useful where contact is usually supervised and social workers will be liaising with families to help them maintain contact with children remotely during the time that direct contact is suspended.

Ms Long added: “I understand that some parents will be concerned about how changes made to contact arrangements will impact on them and their children.

“I hope that, as set out in the guidance issued by the Lord Chief Justice, they are reassured that the court will consider the reasonableness of actions taken when considering future orders, and that parents may be able to make up time missed with their children.”

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