Child Arrangement Orders & Covid-19 : What the lock down means for separated parents

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30.04.2020
Written by Sheena Donlon
24.04.2020
Written by Harun Matin

We are facing truly unprecedented times; a time in which the entire country is in the middle of a Public Health crisis on an unprecedented scale.  Many parents have questioned the arrangements for the children to spend time with the other parent, where this has been determined by the court through a Child Arrangements Order.

Understandably, the parent with whom the child lives will be concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of the order, given the wholly unforeseen changes in the governments’ advice on a daily basis.

It is incredibly difficult in good times to come to an agreement regarding child arrangements, however, this can be significantly more challenging when the government advises voluntary quarantine practices. Below is an update in relation to the current coronavirus situation and it’s implication on child arrangement orders.

The current government guidance is that anyone who presents with a high temperature and/or a new continuous cough should stay at home for a period of at least 7 days. It is recommended that if people live with others they should stay at home for a period of at least 14 days from the first day the person displayed symptoms. It is further recommended that people who are over 70 years old or who fall into the high-risk category (those with underlying health conditions, are pregnant or have a weakened immune system) should avoid all social contact with others.

On 24th March 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane president of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, has provided guidance in line with the current pandemic to ensure the concerns of parents are alleviated as follows;

  1. When the Court makes an order in Family Proceedings, the expectation is for each parent to exercise their parental responsibility in the best interest of the children. Parental responsibility does not rest with the court.
  2. Each parent must act sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time.
  3. Each parent must abide by the government rule and restrictions issued on 23rd March 2020 to “stay at home”, unless shopping, going for one form of exercise a day, caring for a vulnerable person or medical need, or travelling to work where absolutely necessary; such restrictions apply to children too.

There is an exception relating to children subject to Child Arrangements Order, in that, children under 18 can move between households, “but the decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make, after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other”.

It is paramount that parents do not become critical of each other, when the resident parent considers the child’s safety and health may be compromised by allowing contact. A parent who has exercised their parental responsibility, and acted in line with government advice by not allowing contact, is able to vary the existing Contact Arrangements Order, and will not be criticised by the court or reprimanded.

It would be a reasonable expectation for the parent to inform the non-resident parent, in advance, whether by way of telephone, text or email, that contact will not be going ahead, and agree an alternative form of contact by way of FaceTime/ Skype or telephone so that the child maintains continuity of having established and maintained contact with the other parent.

Child Arrangement Order Solicitors

We must all work together and stay safe during this crisis and foster greater unity in what will no doubt be a challenging period for parents and children.

If you  are having challenges in co-parenting during this time, please contact our team of family and divorce solicitors who are experienced in resolving child arrangement disputes or call on 020 3601 5051.