The pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic on parents and children after separation has been revealed by Shared Parenting Scotland’s annual report for 2020-21.
Covering the first year of lockdown, the charity was approached for help, advice and information by close to 1,000 individuals, its highest ever caseload and an increase of 12% on 2019-20 and 30% on 2018-19.
Enquiries in the first part of the year were often driven by confusion and lack of understanding that travel for children to continue shared parenting arrangements was an exception to general travel restrictions all through lockdown.
While COVID encouraged some parents to set aside their previous entrenched positions in the interests of doing their best by their children, many more reported that the pandemic was exploited by the other parent, sometimes wilfully and sometimes through unfounded belief that the Government had told them that travel for shared parenting should not happen.
Equal parental involvement was also one of the first casualties during the period of school closures. Shared Parenting Scotland said it was continuing to work with schools and school parental involvement officers to ensure that equal parenting "is essential and not 'an add-on'".
The charity believes that in most cases shared parenting is beneficial for the wellbeing of children in the short and long term. It works to encourage enquirers to move on from old grievances between parents to focus on resolution of difficulties through mediation and discussion.
In 2020-21 it established online training modules on communication skills, stress management and debt (in collaboration with Govan Law Centre).
National manager Ian Maxwell commented: "In common with most third sector organisations, 2020-21 was challenging to ensure we could meet the needs of everyone who got in contact with us, often at a time of stress and anxiety. We moved all our monthly group meetings online immediately and staff worked from home."
He added: "On our helpline and in support group meetings we always encourage distressed and grieving parents to focus on their children and to try every way possible to defuse conflict and step away from the personal history between them and the other parent. Unfortunately there are too many incentives in our family law system to attack and undermine the other parent, and too few incentives to cooperate in the interests of their children."