Child Arrangements in COVID-19
We are in the middle of a pandemic, COVID-19 (Corona Virus), which is affecting literally everyone in the whole world in some shape or form. Lockdown began on 23 March 2020, the Governments attempt to slow down the disease from spreading at the alleged rapid rate in which it had been doing so.
How has COVID-19 affected separated parents?
When the announcement first happened, in relation to social distancing, i.e staying at home and keeping away from others, separated parents were concerned how the new restrictions would affect their current child arrangements, for example if their child would be allowed to move between two households.
Are children allowed to move from home to home?
There was some confusion at the very start of the lockdown, however Michael Gove has since explained that children under 18 years of age, who have separated parent living in different households may move between their parents’ homes.
What if the child or someone in the household is ill?
As there is no precedent about child arrangements during COVID-19, the decision is very much left up to the parents to assess the situation and to decide if it is in the child’s best interest to move from home to home in the current situation. The parent must weigh up the risks of spreading the disease to other, giving extra thought to any vulnerable individuals that the child may come into contact with should the they move between households.
What if there is a Child Arrangement Order in place?
As per normal the parents are expected to fulfil the terms of the Order. If one of the parents is not complying with the Order, the other parent can make an application to Court to enforce the breach. However, the court has a wide discretion and may agree with the parent with care, if there are reasonable and justifiable reasons why the child cannot move between homes. Each decision will depend on the specific facts of that case.
What if the child is suspected of having COVID-19?
The parents should consult with one each other and decide between themselves what is the best course of action. The child’s health is paramount. Every attempt to ensure the child is safe, receives the correct care, and does not spread the disease to vulnerable people, such as their grandparents.
There are lots of children who are feeling scared and do not want to move homes right now, what should the parents do?
It is so important that the parents communicate and keep each other informed on how their child or children are feeling during these unprecedented times, both physically and emotionally. The Court would expect the parents to be working together even more than usual, by discussing ways to meet their child’s needs before taking steps to enforce arrangements, whether the arrangements are formal or informal.
If there is a Child Arrangement Order in place, can the parents legally change the terms of the Order themselves?
Parents can agree temporary changes to the order, such as different pick up time, alternative pick up points, and where necessary substituting direct contact with telephone calls, WhatsApp, Zoom etc.
If the parents are not in agreement and the child is fit and well and not in self-isolation, then the Order should be complied with.
If there are issues, are the Family Courts still open?
The Family Courts are still open. However, due to COVID-19, making an application to enforce an Order or to apply for an Order, should be a last resort. Some Courts are operating online hearings and CAFCASS who are the “the ears and eyes” of the Family Court will conduct their safeguarding checks by telephone and may even conduct further investigations by WhatsApp and Zoom.
Is there anything else that the parents should be mindful of?
The primary concern of the Government right now is that everyone keeps safe. It is more important than usual for parents to be flexible and try their best to communicate effectively. If there is on- going conflict between the parents, it might be a good option for parents to communicate by email.
This will give the recipient parent time to read and reflect before responding.
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My name is Keeley Lawrence-Hoyle, I am a qualified solicitor and specialise in all matters relating to family law. I am also the creator of LifeLawLiving.co.uk, a blog website, providing free access to a range of valuable resources on all things relating to divorce and well-being.
The website is regularly updated with topical blogs providing a constant stream of information on the legalities of separation
and divorce, and children matters, as well as interesting and useful articles on how to keep yourself fit and healthy, both mentally and physically during divorce and beyond!
I hope this article helps with any issues your stepfamily may be experiencing right now.
Please email any further questions you may have, and we will do our best to answer them for you.