With the UK facing the most severe restrictions in its history, many parents will be wondering what this means for arrangements for their children, particularly where parents are separated. Sophie Smith, an associate solicitor in our family department, gives her advice...
The government guidance makes clear that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. This guidance has been added to by the most senior Family Judge, who sets out that whilst children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes and this is an exception to the mandatory “stay at home” requirement, it does not mean that children must be moved between homes.
The decision as to whether a child is to move between homes is for the child’s parents to make after considering the circumstances, to include the child’s current health, the risk of infection, and the presence of any recognised vulnerable people in one household or the other.
It is recommended that the best way to deal with these difficult times is for parents to communicate with each other about their concerns and as to what they think may be a good, practical solution. Even if some parents think it’s safe for contact to take place, it may be reasonable for the other parent to be generally concerned about this.
Where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place that sets out the contact the child should have with the parent they don’t live with, parents may agree to temporarily vary the arrangements that are set in the Order, and they are free to do so. Where however, there is no agreement to vary the arrangements that may be set out in the Order but one parent is concerned that sticking to the arrangements would be against current Government advice, then that parent may vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. The key point is that it is necessary for that parent to act “reasonably and sensibly” in light of the official advice together with any specific issues relating to the child or family.
Where a child doesn’t get to spend time with the other parent as set out in an Order, it is expected that alternative arrangements are made to establish and maintain regular contact, for example remotely via FaceTime or Skype or if this is not possible, by telephone. This ensures that children are able to remain in touch with both parents, even if they are unable to physically spend time with them and the guidance encourages parents to be creative when it comes to other means of contact, for example arranging fun activities via Skype or FaceTime.
The key message is that where Coronavirus restrictions mean the letter of any order must be changed, the spirit of the order should be delivered, by making safe alternative arrangements.
See https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/ for a full note of the published guidance.
CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) have in addition published helpful guidance, which can be, accessed here https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/. From this it is clear that unless you or your child has an underlying health condition or other vulnerability, then transporting them from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home, would usually be regarded as a legitimate journey.