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During the lockdown, contact with my six-year-old daughter has stopped

Children’s contact with both parents should continue as before where possible

The circumstances of individual families vary and the individual needs of children and parents can be different


1) I am a separated mother with a six-year-old son. Her father lives at the other end of the country and she had a routine of seeing him every weekend when he would take her and stay at his mother's (who lives 10 miles away). With the restrictions, I have been worried about continuing this arrangement, both for his health risk and also the grandmother, who will be 70 this year.

2) I am a divorced father of three children, aged nine, 11 and 14. They used to come and stay with me every second weekend (I live an hour's drive away), but since the lockdown this has stopped. I have been trying to stay in contact by Skype and WhatsApp, but it has been hard.

3) I have a six-year-old daughter. After a long court battle with her mother, I finally got an arrangement to see her twice a week. The court arrangement was that the visits should be supervised for six months until the next hearing. I agreed to this as I saw it as temporary and could easily get a member of my family to do this. During the lockdown this contact has stopped. Her mother says she is not happy with her daughter going out due to risks and also being exposed to "too many adults". I am not sure what to do.


The Covid-19 lockdown has created particular challenges for separated families. Delicately negotiated custody and contact arrangements have been thrown into turmoil as separated parents struggle to respond and to do what is best for their children. Through the network of facilitators delivering the Parents Plus - Parenting when Separated Programme, we have received many questions from parents as they face dilemmas in these new challenging circumstances.


While most separated parents are acting in good faith to resolve matters some are experiencing unreasonable behaviour with some ex-partners using the crisis as a rationale to stop maintenance payments or to stop contact with a non-residential parent. The situation is made all the worse by the fact that families have little access to the courts to resolve disputed arrangements which are closed except for emergency cases. The good news is that there is a relative consensus on how best to help children in guidance issued from family lawyers, the Dept of Justice as well as other organisations representing separated families.

A child's family can include two homes
During the Covid-19 restrictions, the advice is that court orders and children's contact with both parents should continue as before where practically possible. Two homes can be part of child's family during the restrictions and travel between the two should be continued in the usual way where possible. While protecting health and reducing the risk of Covid-19 is a serious concern, so also is protecting a child's well-being and the quality of their relationships with both parents.

Health concerns can be reduced by good practices such as physical distancing and handwashing between journeys and reducing social contacts outside both homes. While of course technology such as video calls can provide alternative means of contact, these may be less than ideal for some children especially for younger children where physical presence is important to preserve bonding and attachment.

Individual Family Solutions
The circumstances of individual families vary and the individual needs of children and parents can be different. The ideal is for separated parents to negotiate and work out their own individual arrangements during the Covid-19 crisis taking into account the needs of their own children and their particular circumstances.

In the first question from the mother above, I would suggest it is worth exploring how the son’s contact could continue as before with him visiting both homes as this would minimise disruption to family relationships. There is a valid concern about protecting the health of his grandmother, though this would be no different to any family living with a grandparent. It could be addressed by minimising contacts outside the home, and keeping good hygiene and physical distancing practices when he visits. This is something to be negotiated between both parents and the grandmother.

In the second question from the father, I wondered why the contact arrangements changed after the Covid-19 restrictions. It would be perfectly reasonable for the three children to continue to travel to spend the weekend with their father. Indeed, the arrangement could have benefits for everyone in providing a different routine for the children and ensuring the parenting is better shared.

The third question presents a more challenging situation as the parents found it hard to reach an agreement before Covid-19 and were relying on the court order. In this situation, the help of a family mediator may be needed ( see below). Potential solutions could include, identifying a single extended family member to supervise the contact (and thus reduce number of adults meeting child) or even allowing the father maintain contact in the child’s home supervised by the mother (though this would require some negotiation).

In all situations, it is important to be creative about how family relationships can be maintained in these challenging times. As well as physical visits all other types of contact should be considered including playing games together over zoom/skype, reading bedtime stories over a video call and even joining your child on their favourite play station game remotely from a different location - you can move from rowing about how long he/she plays video games and use them as a source of connection and contact instead.

Seek support
In all three of the questions, I would advise the parents to seek further support and guidance. While face to face supports have stopped, many services are continuing to provide phone and online support. Solicitors continue to offer advice on the phone and the national family mediation service ( can provide mediation on the phone.

In addition, the helplines of specialist support services such as One family ( and Treoir ( remain open. In addition, many services are arranging online support groups for separated groups. Do contact the helplines to see what is available.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See for more information and articles