Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact upon child arrangements

Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact upon child arrangements

As a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns have been raised by separated parents regarding the impact the current lockdown will have on child arrangements.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson addressed the Country on Monday 23rd March 2020 and announced that the government was bringing in special measures to try to limit the spread of coronavirus. This left grey areas regarding child arrangements and many separated parents were left uncertain about how they maintain a relationship with their children moving forward.

Everyone, including parents, must abide by the “New rules on staying at home and away from others” issued by the government on the 23rd March 2020.

These rules state that you should only leave your house for one of four reasons:-

1) Shopping for basic necessities as infrequent as possible, such as food and medicine.

2) One form of exercise a day, alone or with members of your household.

3) Any medical need or to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person.

4) Travelling to and from work but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

What about child arrangements?

On 24th March 2020, the confusion was compounded when Michael Gove (MP) spoke on Good Morning Britain, he said that children should not be moved between households unless vulnerable.

Mr Gove later clarified and the government has now issued this guidance alongside the “Stay at home rules” which specifically deals with separated parents and child arrangements whether informally or in accordance with a court order.

This additional guidance states:

“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.

It is important to note that just because the government isn’t placing any restrictions on child arrangements, there are many factors that need to be considered, and the risk of children contracting Coronavirus should be reduced wherever possible.

Child arrangement orders

Where there is a Child Arrangements Order in force, this must be complied with. The law has not changed in so far as the enforceability of orders and if there is non-compliance it may be possible for the other parent to apply to the court to enforce the terms of the order.

It may be possible that the parent with the child could argue that they had a reasonable excuse for not adhering to the terms of the order i.e. breaching the order.

The Court will expect parties to communicate for the benefit of the child/children and work together to find a practical solution in their best interests.

Parents may change the pattern of contact in order to limit the handovers between households or implement alternative remote arrangements such as telephone calls or FaceTime.  If an agreement cannot be reached, the terms of the Child Arrangements Order must be adhered to.

CAFCASS has also issued guidance:-

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/

The position is clear that apart from medical/self-isolation reasons, children should spend time with both their parents and maintain usual routines as much as possible.  They advised if there is a current order in place, this must be complied with unless to do so would put the child at risk.

If the arrangements are altered unilaterally by one parent, without the agreement of the other, then the court will look at the reasons behind that. and even if the alteration is justifiable. As a minimum contact must be offered by way of telephone calls, Facetime, Skype or any form of audio or video contact.

The question is, should you allow your child/children to move between households for contact? As parents it’s your role to safeguard your children and many factors will need to be considered as detailed above. We can assist you with how to answer this question and resolve any child arrangement disputes.

OUR POSITION

As parents, it’s your role to safeguard your children. Less going back and forth between households = less risk.

Unless it’s “essential” for example both parents are key workers and they share care so each can work, then limiting contact and therefore limiting risk should be your paramount concern.

This advice was mirrored by a doctor on TV recently. It’s worth a watch.

https://www.heart.co.uk/showbiz/tv-movies/split-families-lockdown-dr-hilary/

We are no longer offering face-to-face appointments at our offices. However, we can conduct appointments via phone, email and video conferencing.

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