It’s hard enough maintaining child arrangements under “normal circumstances” let alone when the Government has made a mandatory lockdown official on us all and we must all stay at home unless it is for “essential trips” for things like shopping for food, or caring for the vulnerable. Schools are also closed, which means things are getting serious. JMR Solicitors look into the implications the Coronavirus pandemic is having on child contact arrangements for separated couples.
The Guardian reports, Lawyers have been inundated with inquiries from divorced parents arguing about where their children should stay during the lockdown. It seems that when the Government originally advised the public on UK lockdown on 23rd March, they somewhat forgot about children under 18 who split their time between two parents.
A postscript was added into the guidance the following morning, clarifying that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
In the pre-Coronavirus world, duties for separated co-parents were defined by means of child arrangement order or by mutual agreement, which brings simplicity and certainty around the situation.
Will the lockdown stop me from seeing or contacting my child?
The current guidance remains: ‘Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.’
So, the answer currently is no, the lockdown shouldn’t stop you from seeing or contacting your child. We are all advised by the Government to stay at home and practice social distancing if we go outside for essentials. They listed the exceptional circumstances that people can go out, one of which covers: “Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person”.
On 24 March, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, said that children under 18 moving between their parents’ homes were classed as the exception to the stay at home order. However, movements of the child must only be when necessary.
Speaking on 24 March, Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office, clarified that children under the age of 18 moving between their parents’ homes, was considered to fall within the exceptions to the stay at home mandate – although movements should be limited to only that which is necessary.
This indicates that child contact arrangements with the co-parent should remain to hold, unless you have other concerns.
Child Contact and visitation rights – How to make contact arrangements?
Child arrangements can be informally decided between divorced or separated parents or by Court order. The arrangements will cover two key parts:
- Which parent your child lives with for which nights
- How frequently they will stay overnight with the second parent.
If you require a child arrangement with your co-parent, then contact JMR solicitors for free 30-minute consultation on how to start making child contact arrangements.
Does the coronavirus mean I need to reconsider my child arrangements?
If both parents are feeling well and have not travelled abroad in the last 14 days, or come into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, then normal arrangements should continue, but with precautions and safety in mind at all times.
If possible, limit the amount of travel needed to get the child between each home. This might mean you need to have a conversation with the co-parent about how to limit the travel or an agreement as to how the arrangements can continue with your situation in mind.
Putting your child’s welfare first
Regardless of child contact arrangements, it is imperative to put your child’s welfare first as it is your parental responsibility. That means, ensuring that the child sees and contacts both parents regularly by any means possible, including telephone, video calling etc.
Is it possible to amend a Court Order if we both agree to change our original arrangement temporarily?
You may change the agreement made by the Court Order if both parents agree to it, which can be useful with the current coronavirus pandemic.
What if the other parent is experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus?
Government advice says that if someone in your household has the symptoms of Coronavirus, (temperature, constant dry cough, difficulty breathing, etc) the whole household must self-isolate for 14 days. If this becomes essential, the significance of frequent video chats or phone calls should stay in place, to ensure both co-parents maintain contact with the child. Once the self-isolation period is over and the parent is feeling better, then the child may move between homes again.
What if we don’t agree on new contact arrangements amid the coronavirus?
If a Court Order in place and you cannot come to an agreement with the other parent about taking charge of the child’s care due to illness of the other co-parent, then new guidance by the Courts recommends that you can take independent action that is necessary to act in your child’s best interests. If the actions of a parent acting on their own are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the Court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in accordance with the official advice and the ‘Stay at Home Rules’ in place at that time, as well as specific evidence relating to the circumstances.
As schools are closed now, what can we do if the Court Order sets out distinct arrangements for school term time and holiday time?
Mutually, you and the other parent may come to some sort of arrangement to define what happens between yourselves. Schools are offering different ways to keep your child up to date on their studies, so you should consult with your child’s school to see if they are offering any online classes.
Contact JMR Solicitors for Child Contact and Arrangement Disputes
If you and the co-parent are unable to resolve a child contact matter due to disagreement, then you may want to seek legal advice.
It is important to emphasise and remember that this is a temporary and extraordinary situation we are all facing, and it is also essential that your children encounter combined parental contact continuing as normally as possible with safety in mind. If face-to-face contact must be compromised, then it is necessary that you think of other means of keeping in touch regularly.
In any case, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a Court Order to be changed, then you must consider child welfare and ensure that changes are made according to safe alternative arrangements.
For more information on arrangement for child contact during Coronavirus (Covid-19) contact JMR Solicitors on 0161 491 3933 or email email@example.com