Helpline calls by parents over contact issues with their children have soared during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to Shared Parenting Scotland.
The support charity says it has recorded an 81% increase in enquiries by phone, text and email during April and May 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Between March and May, 991 individuals got in touch.
The Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland, and the President of the Family Division of the High Court of England & Wales, both issued guidance that court orders should still be complied with – and that if that was not possible, contact such as by video call should continue. Travel to enable children to continue contact arrangements with parents is a legal exemption from the restrictions on travel. However many callers to Shared Parenting Scotland have reported COVID-related issues – including queries from parents with care who are concerned about allowing contact. They include:
- a father who was told he would see his daughter again after the pandemic was over, and not to contact her until then;
- a mother who said the father was refusing to take the children as provided by the court order, because he said it was not safe;
- a parent who was told it was not safe for them to see their child, though the child was still going to a childminder;
- a grandparent who moved in with her daughter and child and was shielding due to a health condition, but the child's father was still insisting on seeing her.
- a father whose son lived in England and the mother insisted it was illegal to travel for contact.
Queries did not necessarily relate to court orders. One was from a father who had offered to take the children because his former partner was a hospital worker, but she claimed she needed them because of her stress. "I understand that, but is it safe?", he asked.
Shared Parenting Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, commented: ''It was set out in the lockdown law from day one that travel for children under the age of 18 to continue contact arrangements with parents who do not live together is an exception to the overall travel restrictions. That was a recognition of the benefit to the wellbeing of children of continuity at a time of great anxiety."
He added: "Of course good sense and good faith were essential to ensure that children would be moving from one symptom free household observing social distancing to another.
"For reasons, presumably of keeping the message simple, the daily press briefings at Downing Street and Holyrood have never recognised that maintaining parenting contact is an important exception.
"That has led to confusion for many parents who don't live together. Many of the calls we have received have simply sought clarification or reassurance. Some parents have genuinely stepped up and made arrangements that make sense for both parents and their children. Unfortunately, others have not."
Shared Parenting had been contacted by many parents who said that not only contact but all communication had stopped, and "It is also clear from our calls that some parents have exploited the lockdown to disrupt the relationship between their children and a separated parent. We urge all parents to put the wellbeng and emotional health of their children at the top of their priorities.''