The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause disruption to daily life for many families in the UK as the government imposes lockdown measures. For separated families or those going through a separation or divorce, it is not clear how child arrangements should be dealt with during this period.
On 23 March, the government announced a national lockdown for at least three weeks, where people must stay at home except for a limited set of purposes. They have closed schools and nurseries which has severely impacted childcare arrangements and contact orders for a lot of separated parents and their children.
In ‘normal’ circumstances, when considering arrangements for children, the Family Court will look at each family’s unique circumstances and deliver a bespoke judgment on the basis of their precise situation and needs, however, at the moment many separated families who are having to make difficult decisions quickly about whether, it is sensible for their children to move between their households, especially during the lockdown.
Whilst every family’s situation will be unique, our Family team have provided some guidance below.
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Will the lockdown prevent me from seeing my child?
No, it will not. The Government has given full guidance on staying at home and away from others. They set out some exceptions to those people told to stay at home. One provision covers: Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. This part has a specific clause that includes moving children under 18 years old between their parents’ homes.
Many separated parents have been concerned about their capability to meet the obligations of previously agreed Court orders in a safe manner due to the Covid-19 circumstances.
Separated parents may also be worried that they may not be able to see their child for a prolonged period of time, for example, if the child goes into isolation while with the other parent or when one parent is using the coronavirus as an excuse for the child not to see the other parent.
Also if a parent is being put under pressure to make a child available to spend time with the other parent, going against the Government guidance, then it is vital that they take independent legal advice which is something our specialist family law solicitors can help with.
Many parents are currently worried about whether they are doing the right thing, especially where they have a Child Arrangements Order in place, and they know that their children should be seeing the other parent. The following hopefully offers some guidance and reassurance to those affected during this difficult time.
The guidance can be summarised in two points:
- There is an overriding expectation that parents will care for their children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for them.
This will require the parties to put aside their differences and show as much tolerance, flexibility and understanding as possible for the safety of their children and those around them. It will inevitably be very tough on a parent who does not see their child at the usual time, but the overwhelming objective must be to preserve their health and that of those around them.
- We are all now subject to the Stay at Home Rules issued by the government on 23rd March 2020 but the following exception applies to child contact arrangements:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
The key word here is “can”. This exception does not mean that a child must be moved between homes, even if an Order says they should.
It is down to the child’s parents to evaluate the risk of moving the child having regard to:
- the child’s present health
- the risk of infection
- the presence of any recognised vulnerable people in one household or the other.
The specific guidance concerning children arrangements has been released to help separated families and those with Child Arrangement Orders decide on the right approach, but if you feel that you need clearer advice or if you think that this rule is being misused then you should contact our family team today for more information and advice.
For those parents who are unable to communicate and co-operate about what they should do if sensible agreement cannot be reached, the situation is even harder. This is a time of huge stress for everyone and it is easy to see why parents might find it hard to reach a compromise.
Minimising the risk of spreading the infection is important for the safety of each family and society as a whole and maintaining contact with both parents is inevitably crucial to the child’s well-being.
Thanks to modern technology and social media the two can be compatible if physical contact cannot take place then indirect contact through telephone calls, skype and video calls can and should happen, as often and in as many ways as possible.
If you are in the position of trying to manage the contact arrangements for your child during this difficult time, then it is crucial to communicate. Wherever possible, attempt to discuss the situation with the other parent, express any concerns and worries you have, and try to agree on the best interim solution for you all, prioritising the health of you, your child and others in your household.
Your rights and legal options will largely depend on your personal circumstances. It is therefore vital that you get expert legal advice at the earliest opportunity. This will give you the information you need to make the best choices for you and your children, ensuring your rights as a parent and your children’s best interests are safeguarded.
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