A life of Webinars and Zoom parties

Last week I took part in a webinar in lieu of the face to face launch of Clifford Bellamy’s book The Secret Family Court – Fact or Fiction? It was really rather fun, and hopefully vaguely interesting for the 200 odd people watching. You can view a download here. That was back to back with the excellent paperless training put on by the FLBA via zoom – for 2 ½ hours there were 500 members of the bar glued to their screens, variously with head – or gin – in hand as we were talked through the software and practicalities. Even for someone who has been working paperlessly for a while, there was stuff to learn – so if you are an FLBA member who didn’t make it do watch the recording.

On Thursday I will be joining another webinar looking at the impact of Corona Virus on family law. You can find out about that here on the Family Law Hub website.

So far most of my hearings have been by telephone, but there have been plenty of opportunities to test out assorted video conferencing set ups via advocates meetings, client conferences, friends and family catch ups, mock video trials and general IT therapy sessions with colleagues. And yes, I was the saddo who prepared a powerpoint for the zoom pub quiz last Friday. I have been banned from next week’s pub quiz.

Meta-Guidance for (family) lawyers

This guidance should not be read in conjunction with any other guidance and is of indeterminate status.

Rules :

1 Do not read any guidance until 48 hours have elapsed from the time of receipt. If during the 48 hour period any superceding, related, overlapping or duplicate guidance arrives in your email inbox or via any other digital or social media platform within the 48 hour ‘quarantine’ window, the clock starts again.

2 Follow good Corona Guidance hygiene. Do not forward any guidance to your colleagues until the 48 hours referred to at 1 have passed without receipt of superceding, related, overlapping or duplicate guidance you may forward the guidance. Remember, corona guidance proliferates exponentially.

3 Corona Guidance is untested and is not yet well understood. Do not assume that the effects of the guidance will be as anticipated from reading the guidance. Different judges will have different reactions to the same guidance, with very different presentations. A loss of a sense of humour is one possible symptom of Corona Guidance overload.

4 For every piece of Corona Guidance received in your inbox it is advised that you carry out one cleansing activity such as : a brisk walk, chugging a glass of wine, or running your head under a cold shower.

5 Keeping a sense of humour is an important defence against Corona Guidance overload. Always attempt to sneak one *tiny* moment of hilarity into each video conference you participate in (this is not difficult).

6 Remember, the Corona Guidance does not care which platform you use to congregate.

7 Remember, the Corona Guidance famdemic will peak and subside at some point. Corona Guidance cannot survive outside a digital environment for more than 7 days.

Keep well, lovely people. And get some sleep.

x

Lockdown – can my children move between homes?

As ever – not legal advice. Doing my best here in difficult circumstances.

This is just a holding post (and supercedes my earlier post really, though there may still be something of use there – see here). There is little to report at present, and I will post more when more is available and when things are better understood.

[IMPORTANT UPDATE : Full government advice on what ‘staying at home’ means now published here. Now includes clarification that moving children under 18 between their parents’ homes is permitted. (This was originally added in a footnote but is now in the main body of the guidance). The President of the Family Division has issued guidance here.]

So, it looks like the new rules don’t stop existing child arrangements happening, if of course they can be done safely].

 

As best I can tell tonight from looking at existing legislation, the Coronavirus Bill that is still going through Parliament (it’s not yet been passed so it isn’t law YET), and the emergency regulations already published :

  • there are powers in place to do some of things announced last week, like the closing of businesses and schools
  • there are NOT yet powers in place to underpin what was announced tonight by the PM in terms of staying at home and fines if you don’t
  • those powers will probably be in place very soon either through the Coronavirus Bill OR regulations made under the Civil Contingencies Act
  • it is sensible and morally right to comply as best you can with the new rules announced by the PM regardless – for your own sake, the sake of your child and their other parent, and for the sake of the country at large.

(I’m not going to post links to all the different lawyers on twitter and their different explanations of this because this is not a post for lawyers. It’s just a post trying to help those asking me really tough and quite urgent questions – should I send my kids tonight?)

To a lawyer, the PM’s announcement begs a lot of questions – we are looking for definitions so we can work out what is and is not allowed. Parents are asking questions that are in desperate search for a definition at the moment – on twitter and social media forums, to me via DM, email, whatsapp and messenger.

Parents want to know when will I see my child again? Can I allow my child to see their other parent right now? Will I be in breach of the court order that says there will be regular contact or that the child lives with both of us?

What they need most of all to know is : When the government says ‘stay home’ – what if a child has two homes? Can they go to the other home / come to my home? What they really need to know is the definition of ‘home’?

And what they really need to know is – how should they make decisions about this until its clarified (knowing that if the child goes to the other parent tonight they might not be able to get them back for at least 3 weeks, likely much longer).

The answer tonight I’m afraid is – I don’t know.

My view is that it’s unlikely anyone is going to be in trouble for breaching an order right now. Everyone is trying to make sense of an impossible situation. Just try and focus on safety first. Already I am seeing cases of children who have been moving between two household where someone in one household is coughing and the parents are struggling to agree how to deal with it. There will be many such cases.

You may take the view that if your child has had recent contact with both parents both households are likely to be in the same boat as far as contamination is concerned – but that is not necessarily so. You may be spreading infection if you move a child between houses. Children themselves (if healthy) may be at low risk, but many of their parents and grandparents are not in the same category. Those are members of your child’s family. It’s a tough call. I’m lucky both of my children are in the same household as me, and have both their parents together. I don’t doubt this is acutely difficult. Please make sure if your kids are without contact to parts of their family for a while that you find ways for them to keep in touch.

I know that in Spain there is a specific exception for chlidren who move between two households (see here : https://twitter.com/umadouma/status/1241874952015556611?s=11 – for some reason tweets aren’t embedding properly right now so I’ll post a screengrab. In the circumstances I hope the original tweeter won’t mind). I have no idea if the government here will endorse a similar approach or not. I have no idea whether or not the drafters of any regulations have even considered it. I can’t see anything in the draft regulations that covers it, so if it is covered it will have to be in regulations I think.

 

 

I’ve just seen one tweet thread between a dad who has made the hard decision not to see his children to protect them and others, and a mother who has decided she ought to transport her children to their dad’s by car, since both households are working from home / isolated and she feels the risk can be managed. As the dad correctly points out – that works for her family, but might not be sensible or possible in families where one parent is working in the community or is dependent on public transport. Both are sensible approaches based on the circumstances in their family. Whether or not the mother will be permitted to make her journeys so her kids can see their dad or not is less clear. Whatever decisions you and your ex make about these things, try not to be too critical of them, try to think about their position. Try and focus on the positives. Work together. Be safe.

 

More when I have it.

 

PS Please don’t message me asking for advice about your individual case. I really can’t give it. Please share this post, subscribe to updates / emails and check back.