Domestic abuse fears and child custody confusion for couples in lockdown

A Swindon family lawyer believes lockdown is putting extra stress on couples who are trapped at home together.

Natalee Worthington of Worthingtons Family Law at Rombourne in West Swindon fears that women and men who may be victims of domestic violence are lacking an opportunity to call their solicitors and seek advice.

The solicitor has seen an increase in cases involving children because the stay-at-home situation has caused confusion over custody arrangements.

Ms Worthington said: “People who might have had some release by going out to work, or seeing their friends are now stuck at home with an abusive partner or in a relationship that has broken down.

“Often their movements are already restricted in a domestic violence relationship, and this has now become so much worse.

“They may want to get out of their situation, or to look into divorce, but they are lacking the opportunity to get in touch with a solicitor. Even if they are unhappy in the marriage and it has broken down, to add the extra stress of a divorce now seems a step too far, so they are delaying.”

The solicitor is dealing with more enquiries about children, particularly in relation to passing between parents’ houses during lockdown.

Government guidance says children can pass between houses but the parents have parental responsibility and must prioritise their children’s wellbeing. If one parent is symptomatic, or someone they live with is, then it may not be in the child’s best interests to follow their usual contact routine. Alternative interim arrangements should be agreed between the parents, such as via video chat, until the direct contact can be reinstated.

Ms Worthington added: “We have cases where a child has a parent who is on the list of those who need to self-isolate for several weeks, or who has been unwell, and the other parent doesn’t want the child to be with that parent.

“If there is already a court order in place, parents are calling me with concerns about breaching the order if they change the child arrangements.”

The solicitor offers a free initial consultation and during lockdown can meet clients by video or talk to them on the phone.

She added: “I’d urge people to take action now rather than later, particularly if they are in a situation where they are at risk. Courts are still sitting and work is still being done.”

“If people are in danger, they should access domestic violence charities or the police without delay.

“Even if people aren’t ready to go ahead with a separation now, we could talk through their options about what they can do after lockdown and this might give them some peace of mind in the meantime.”

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