According to experts, separation from relatives and prolonged periods at home during the pandemic are causing a rising number of difficulties for families, and children are thought to be particularly at risk.
Family lawyer Barbara Corbett said that her firm had seen an increase in new divorce/separation cases over the summer, as well as custody disputes. She said that she was particularly concerned about Islanders using Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions as an ‘excuse’ to prevent the other parent from seeing their offspring.
‘We noticed when doing the invoices for July and August that there were a lot of new cases. So there has been an increase, but I couldn’t quantify it,’ she said.
‘Covid has perhaps particularly increased the number of cases concerning children. Sometimes there has been cases of people using Covid as a reason to restrict access to children if a couple has separated.’
She added that more separations were taking place due to people missing relatives who live abroad, which was putting further strain on families.
‘With people being unable to see their families or loved ones, we have found people who are away from home, who maybe live in the UK or Poland, who are moving back because they want to be with their relatives,’ she said.
‘You are then getting the issue of where do the children go. Another issue is finance. Whenever there is a squeeze on finances it impacts on relationships. There have been redundancies, as well as issues with looking after the kids because they have been at home.’
Malcolm Ferey, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said that he was aware of some Islanders using children as ‘pawns’ during relation break-ups or custody disputes.
‘Lockdown has caused a lot of unseen pressures on families. I think what has been recognised is the extra pressure of working from home, but there is so much more than that,’ he said.
‘During this time there have been couples who are experiencing difficulties and Covid has become that time when they make the decision to bring things to an end.’
He added: ‘Children are particularly at risk. There are a small group of people who will use Covid as an excuse to forward their own agenda, whether that is for good or for bad.
‘We really need to make sure that children are not used as pawns in the middle of disputes.’
Deborah McMillan, the Children’s Commissioner, said that the custody rights of children must continue to be respected despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic.
‘It is crucially important that we continue to monitor children’s rights during this difficult and disruptive period,’ she said.
‘It is inevitable that some parents will find themselves faced with challenging situations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘In moments like these, children’s rights are often at risk, especially those that relate specifically to Articles 10 and 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which set out the rights to see family in another country and to be brought up by both parents.’