Coronavirus and Child Arrangements

The Coronavirus crisis has impacted all aspects of our lives and for separated parents a pressing issue is how and whether to facilitate contact arrangements whilst protecting their children and complying with the Government’s lockdown rules.

The Family Court has now issued guidance about complying with Child Arrangements Orders given that the country is experiencing this unprecedented public health crisis.  Basically, the expectation is that parents will care for their children sensibly and safely during the crisis and especially when deciding arrangements about when their children spend time with each of their parents.

The Government’s “Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others” should clearly be observed and these rules in general make provision that it is no longer permitted for a person, which includes a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.  The rules further explain that, “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.

There is therefore an exception to the stay at home rule when it comes to moving children between parents’ homes.  However, this does not mean that children must be moved between homes and the decision whether a child should be moved between parents’ homes is one for the parents to make after a sensible assessment of all the circumstances including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and whether they (parents and children) are going to be exposed to any vulnerable people in either household.

The key advice to parents during this crisis is to communicate with one another and agree upon a good, practicable solution.  Whereparents acting in agreement conclude that any arrangements set out in a Child Arrangements Order should be temporarily varied then they are free to do so.  Where parents reach such an agreement then it  would be advisable to record this in writing (for example, in an e-mail or text message) and to confirm that the new arrangement will only take place during the present crisis and that when normal times return the previous arrangements will resume.

If parents are unable to agree any temporary variation, but where one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with a Child Arrangements Order would be against the current Government advice and put their child at risk, then that parent may decide to vary the arrangement to one that they consider safe. However, such parent will need to explain the decision and show that it was reasonable, appropriate and sensible and especially if the decision is questioned by the other parent after the event in the Family Court. The Family Court will, if necessary, look at all circumstances surrounding the decision to establish whether the parent making the decision to vary has acted reasonably and sensibly.

Where there is a variation of any Child Arrangements Order, either by agreement or not, and a child does not get to spend time with both its parents as set out in an order, the Family Court will nevertheless expect that alternative arrangements be made so that regular contact is maintained.  Today’s society offers many ways for staying in contact safely: Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, online family games and activities in addition to routine telephone calls and e-mails.  All of these ways of staying in touch should be encouraged and used to ensure that children remain in regular, safe contact with both their parents during these difficult times.  Every situation will be different and what works for one set of

parents may not work for another.  The key message is for parents to ensure that regular contact continues through safe and sensible alternative arrangements if necessary.

Here at Oliver Fisher we want everyone to stay safe and healthy.  We are continuing to provide clients and others with access to legal and professional advice and assistance and our Family Team continues to offer a full service on all family law matters.  If we can assist with any enquiries or assistance, please contact us on 0203 219 0145 or at advice@oliverfisher.co.uk.