Thousands of divorced parents were cut off from their children amid Covid justice chaos as pandemic slowed system
- Last year, a record 9,000 filed in courts for help seeing their children
- But delay in hearings during lockdown means only a handful of aid won
- Large number of divorced parents used lockdown to exclude exes from children
Thousands of separated and divorced parents have lost contact with their children due to the impact of the pandemic on the courts.
A record 9,000 filed in courts for help seeing their children last year when contact arrangements between divided families were broken, Whitehall figures show.
But the delay in hearings during the lockdown has meant that only a handful of judges have received the help of judges to restore their rights.
Judges have complained that warring couples are now asking the courts to settle the simplest disputes
The effective collapse of the family court system follows an increase in conflict between divorced parents after Covid rules were imposed last year.
A large number of divorced parents with child custody – almost always mothers – are said to have taken advantage of the lockdown to keep ex-partners out of their children’s lives.
Tensions between divorced families have been fueled by a series of mistakes and official decisions, including misguided advice from Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove not to let children leave home to meet their other parent, and a ruling that turned arguments for family contact to the back of the queue for court hearings during lockdowns.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett warned MPs last month that there is now a threat to the safety of judges in family courts, ‘where emotions run very high and some disappointed litigants have indeed behaved very badly’.
Justice Department figures show that the number of complaints in courts by divorced parents rose by a third when the first lockdown began.
These complaints, in the form of requests to judges to enforce family contact rules, rose from 1,944 in the first three months of 2020 to 2,583 in the following three months.
In total, a staggering 8,798 enforcement requests were filed in 2020, 12 percent more than in 2019 and more than four times the total in 2011. Very few fathers who wanted to see their children received the support of a judge. In 2020, only 24 enforcement orders were issued, less than one in every 350 applications.
Lawyers blamed mothers’ willingness to use lockdown to sever relationships between children and fathers. Katie Welton-Dillon of Hall Brown Family Law said: “Some parents seem to have taken advantage of the circumstances and just cut off contact altogether.
“The published figures suggest that what we have seen is no exception.
Lawyers blamed mothers’ willingness to use lockdown to sever relationships between children and fathers
“Certainly, almost all of the kid’s arrangement requests I’ve handled in the past year have been because a parent used Covid as some sort of excuse to cut off contact.”
She said that due to Covid restrictions in the courts “rules were put in place to prioritize certain types of cases”, explaining: “While situations involving a risk of serious bodily harm to a child or the parent they completed, enforcement not.’
Ms Welton-Dillon pointed to the possibility that children could suffer ‘serious emotional damage’ if they cannot have a relationship with both parents where it is safe and possible.
Every week, about 1,000 divorced couples go to family court to ask a judge if and how they should spend time with their children.
Judges have complained that warring couples are now asking the courts to settle the simplest disputes.
Last year, a couple went to court to determine which M4 junctions they should meet at to extradite their children.