Child Arrangements and COVID-19
There is a lot of attention in the news at the moment over the Chief Medical Offices of all four nations now having recommended extending COVID vaccines to children aged 12 to 15. This follows a clinical trial earlier this year when the Pfizer vaccine gained European regularity approval for use on children aged 12 to 15years.
In a time when every person has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic this news has largely been accepted by society as positive. There has however, been a spike in disputes between families, parents and carers, surrounding whether or not they are in agreement that their child or children should receive the vaccine. The vaccine roll out for children is likely to start in the next few weeks. Information is already coming out to parents. There is likely to be an influx of disputes between parents who cannot agree on whether to vaccinate their children or not.
How the pandemic has affected child arrangements
In the initial stages of the pandemic, as Mediators we saw significant numbers of cases being referred relating to children where COVID-19 was proving to be difficult to navigate for separated parents sharing the care of children.
There were issues at times where a child would display symptoms of COVID and self-isolation would be required which would result in the other parent not being able to see their child. There were also incidents of parents themselves living with elderly parents and the anxiety over children moving between households and transmitting the virus to vulnerable grandparents, or indeed parents.
There have also been cases where parents have been anxious, not wanting to take holidays away and the other parent wanting to return to a more normal “routine” at the earliest possible juncture.
The change in arrangements categorisation of destinations open for holidaying parents is also likely to show increase as international travel is clearly opening up leaving many parents at odds with each other. The conflict family disputes have upon both parents and also the effect upon their children that filters down to them cannot be underestimated.
How can we reach agreement?
As parents it can be helpful to clearly communicate your views, discussing options is always the best way to resolve difficulties.
Reaching an agreement however is not always easy.
It is important for conflicts to be dealt with without delay and a mutually agreed resolution found without using the Courts, where at all possible. Family Mediation can provide the appropriate professional environment to enable parents to have their views heard but also to listen to the corresponding views of the other parent and reach a mutually acceptable outcome on what arrangements should be made for the children.
At present, the Ministry of Justice is promoting a Voucher Scheme enabling each family to secure non-means funding of £500 towards the cost of Mediation Session fees, in matters discussing children. Public funding of Mediation is also available subject to eligibility tests.
A Mediation Process typically takes few weeks as opposed to Court proceedings which can take between six to nine months particularly, made worse by the COVID-19 backlogs.
The cost of Mediation even on a private paying basis is considerably less than the cost of being represented within children Court proceedings by several thousands of pounds per parent. Mediators encourage parents to make their own decisions however also encourage parties were appropriate to be advised between sessions to regularly work with solicitors who support their clients within a Mediation Process enabling them to reach the best outcome for them and their families.
Do I have to mediate?
Mediation is a voluntary process, however there is a requirement (unless you fall within one of the exemptions) for parties to attend an assessment meeting otherwise referred to as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). If as an applicant you fail to attend MIAM the Court is likely to reject your application or challenge the reasons for making an application without having attended a MIAM first.
The Court’s expectation is that a party should attempt to resolve issues with the other parent wherever possible. If either parent is unwilling to engage in a Mediation Process or the process is deemed as unsuitable by the Mediator appropriate forms will be issued to enable a formal application to be made to the Court.
It is important for a request for assessment to be made as promptly as possible. The cost of a MIAM may be met by public funding if eligible otherwise the cost of the MIAM VAT inclusive is £120.
A MIAM typically takes around an hour to complete.
The majority of MIAMs are undertaken online/remotely via Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype. This enables you to undertake the appointment in a location you feel is comfortable.
Mediations themselves are also typically undertaken on a remote online basis which enables parents to engage effectively in discussions no matter where they are geographically placed within the country, avoids the need for them to attend the offices, take time off work, utilise annual leave or need to make extensive childcare arrangements for other children for whom they care. The MIAMs and also Mediation discussions are private and confidential (subject to safeguarding requirements).
How to make contact
If you wish to discuss the services we are able to offer please contact us on 01623 706020 or visit our website www.midlandsdove.co.uk