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Covid19Legal News

Remote family court hearings – how do they work?

The introduction of social distancing in response to the coronavirus outbreak has caused disruption to many vital services – including in the justice system. Many services that would typically have taken place face-to-face have been adapted to meet the challenges of our current climate. One such service is family court hearings, which may now take place remotely. In this post, we look at how remote family court hearings currently operate.

 

Will my family court hearing be held remotely or in-person?

For now, it is the default position that family court hearings will be held remotely using phone, video link or emails. However, there may be certain circumstances where in order to ensure fairness and in the interests of justice, a court-based hearing is necessary.

Where such a hearing is safe to take place, you may need to attend a court-based hearing. It will be up to the judge, magistrates or panel to decide whether a court-based hearing is necessary. They will consider whether audio or video testimony is suitable for the matters at stake, and the issues they may present for those taking part in the hearing.

What if my case is urgent?

Even in the circumstances where a case is urgent, arrangements may be made swiftly for the hearing to be conducted remotely. When it is not possible to carry out the hearing remotely, but there are urgent issues to be dealt with, the court can arrange to conduct a court-based hearing while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

How is a remote hearing arranged? 

Your solicitor may arrange a remote hearing, or if both parties have not yet instructed a solicitor, the court will organise the remote hearing.  When the applicant has instructed a lawyer, they will be responsible for arranging the hearing. However, if the applicant does not have legal representation, but the respondent does, the respondent’s solicitor will arrange the remote hearing. Where the court buildings are closed, a member of staff or a judge working remotely will arrange the hearing.

What technology may be used in a remote hearing? 

Remote hearings can be carried out using a variety of communication methods, and the tools that are used will depend on the requirements of the hearing. The following methods may be used:

  • An exchange of emails between the parties involved in the hearing
  • Using telephone conferencing technology
  • Where the court has a video-link system, this may be used
  • Skype for Business, which has been installed on many judicial laptops
  • Any other method of communication deemed to be appropriate for remote hearings such as Facetime, Zoom or BT MeetMe.

 

Remote hearings and confidentiality

Remote hearings must be confidential, and all parties to the hearings must attend in private. It is also now an offence to make an unauthorised recording of a remote family court hearing under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Magistrates and judges must strive to ensure that only those who would be permitted to be in the courtroom may have access to the remote hearing and that all parties understand the rules.

 

You may also like to read our article on online mediation and if you have concerns please speak to a member of the team. 

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Covid19Mediation

Can online mediation help me?

Where face to face mediation is not currently available following the coronavirus crisis, we at Farnfields Mediation can offer a full mediation service online. The current lockdown situation does not mean that the process needs to be put on hold and the ability to ‘meet’ remotely has opened up new possibilities.

 

How does online mediation work?
The process of online mediation is still the same as meeting in person. Each person will still have an initial assessment meeting with the mediator (a MIAM) by video link and then if you are both willing to go ahead, a joint session will be arranged. Online mediation follows the same approach, structure and principles as face to face mediation to enable you to work together to resolve the issues that you wish to consider. If an agreement can be reached, then the mediator can draw up a document and email it to both parties. That can be used to draft a court order which will make the agreement legally binding.

There are some practical matters to consider if as a couple if you decide to opt for mediation online. You don’t need any special equipment, a computer, tablet or smartphone is more than sufficient, but you do need to make sure the correct software is downloaded and that the video and audio work ahead of the session. It is important that you have somewhere to sit privately during the session and if you have children living with you in one or both of the homes, you must ensure that they are occupied and out of earshot.

What are the benefits of online mediation?

As to the benefits of online mediation, you can decide where you want to be when the meetings take place, which hopefully will help you to feel more comfortable in your surroundings. You may then feel less apprehensive and be able to think more clearly. If a break is required the camera can be switched off and the microphone muted. There is no need to travel or wait as with face to face meetings which makes it easier to fit in with the rest of your day plus there is no need to worry about access if there are mobility issues. If either you or your ex-partner is located some distance away, online mediation overcomes this.

Consider our videos for more detail on how the mediation service may help you but for more information on how mediation works remotely by online video conferencing, or to arrange an appointment to discuss your options please call the Farnfields Mediation Service on 01747 834209 or complete the online referral form.

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Covid19Parenting

How does Coronavirus affect contact with my children? 

In the Farnfields Family Team, we are aware that there is currently lots of conflicting advice about the arrangements for children to spend time with separated parents. We are here to help you and have brought together in this article guidance from CAFCASS and the Family Court.

The key points are:

Keeping a sense of routine will help your child to feel safe and secure. Whilst your child’s school may be closed, consider sticking to normal meal and bed times and any other family rituals your child takes comfort in – for example movie night or reading a book together before bed.

Unless there are justified medical / self-isolation issues, children should also continue to spend time with each of their parents. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place this should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others at risk. This will help your child to stay in their normal routine, whilst also reassuring them that the parent they don’t always live with is safe and healthy.

If you can’t maintain your child’s normal routine, then communicate clearly and honestly with their other parent. If it is not safe for you to communicate directly (for example if there has been a history of domestic abuse) then consider using a trusted third party to help you.

Think creatively about how you can support your child to stay in touch with their other parent and family members during any period of self-isolation. Skype and Facetime can be great ways to catch up and can be used to read stories, sing and play together. With older children you could also consider a watch party – where you gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and ‘reacting’ in real time.

If any court directed spending time arrangements are missed, think about how you and your co-parent may be able to ‘make up’ your child’s time after the restrictions are lifted. Remember, any rearranged spending time arrangements should always be for your child’s benefit and should not be used as a source of tension or conflict – especially at a time when your child is likely to be feeling anxious about the effects of the pandemic.

Be extra vigilant when making sure that children cannot hear discussions about the court case or any dispute you may have with your child’s other parent. This is particularly relevant now as they are at home and there may be court hearings by skype / telephone. Exposing children to these disputes can result in them feeling confused, having divided loyalties and may harm them emotionally.

Unless you or your child has an underlying health condition or other vulnerability, transporting them from one home to the other would usually be a legitimate journey (based on the current government guidance).

The President of the Family Courts in England has also issued some advice, which very much reflects the points made by CAFCASS, and emphasises that:

  • It is for the parents of a child subject to a Child Arrangements Order to decide whether it is safe to move any child between parental homes. The parent must make a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or another.
  • Where parents agree to temporarily vary any arrangements made by the court they are free to do so but should record the decision to do so in an email or text between themselves.
  • If an agreement about changes cannot be reached, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the Court-ordered arrangements would be against current Public Health advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.

If you would like any further advice or clarification, please do contact our Family team to discuss your specific requirements. We are here to help you.

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Contact us and speak to one of our friendly experts.

Referral Form

Complete our referral form online or download a PDF copy.

 

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Covid19Farnfields Mediation News

Protecting Staff and Clients from COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Farnfields Appointments Still Available and New Referrals Welcome

Although present restrictions mean that we are unable to undertake face to face meetings, and while our doors may be closed, we are very much open for business, and we are continuing to offer support to existing and new clients during this difficult time.

Significant investment has been made of late to enhance our staff home working capability on secure devices, which ensures our front line staff to continue to deliver the levels of service we pride ourselves on.

Farnfields Family Team is fully operational with all of our staff working remotely. Rather than face to face meetings, we can offer appointments via telephone or via video conferencing facilities and will continue to provide guidance and support to all existing and new clients. We also continue to offer free initial 30 minute consultations to new clients by telephone or video conferencing. Thank you for your continued support. For any enquiries, please get in touch with your lawyer contact at Farnfields’ local offices, or Catherine Savage, who is our primary contact for new enquiries – catherine.savage@farnfields.com

Helpful links:

Zoom – https://zoom.us/ – can also be downloaded free of charge via the Google Play Store / Apple App Store
Skype – https://www.skype.com/en/ – can also be downloaded free of charge via the Google Play Store / Apple App Store

Assuring you of our best attention at all time and meanwhile wishing you and your loved ones all the very best.

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Complete our referral form online or download a PDF copy.