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We live in strange and difficult times. We have new rules and guidance coming from the Government on a daily basis. We thought it may be helpful to summarise the most recent guidance in relation children of separated parents.
Many parents are concerned about obeying Court Orders safely in the current circumstances. The President of the Family Division has issued guidance which offers advice but also takes into account that the personal situations of each child and family will be different. It is therefore only very general advice.
Parents must stick to “Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others” issued by the Government on 23 March 2020. In addition, there has been a lot of advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of the infection, including by self-isolation and social distancing.
The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear. It is no longer permitted for anyone, including children, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
There are also some extra rules, an exception to the mandatory stay at home rule, that deal specifically with child contact arrangements:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can move between their parents’ homes”.
This does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between the homes is for the child’s parents to make after considering the circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in either parent’s household.
The best way to deal with these arrangements will be for parents to communicate with one another about their worries and make suggestions as to good and practical solutions. But this is not always possible.
This is a time when many of us are very worried about the Coronavirus and the health of ourselves, our children and extended family members. Even if some parents think it is safe for the contact to continue, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this, either because of concerns for their own health, their children’s health or wider family members’ health.
If parents, by agreement conclude that the arrangements set out in any Court Order should be temporarily changed then they can do so. It would be sensible for each parent to record an agreement in a note, e-mail or text message between them if possible.
Where parents are not able to agree to vary the arrangements set out in a Court Order, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the arrangements in the Order would be against the current government advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, this decision is challenged in future Court proceedings, the Court will consider all of the circumstances and the guidance in place at the time.
If, the children are not able to spend time with the other parent, it is reasonable to make other arrangements, such as Facetime, WhatsApp, video call, Skype, Zoom or other video connection and if none of those are possible then by telephone. Both parents need to find ways to help the children to continue to have and build their relationships with both their parents.
The key message from the Government and The President of the Family Division is that the spirit of the Order and what it intended to do should be delivered as far as possible, safely.
More information available at: