Coronavirus is affecting every aspect of our lives and separated parents may be confused as to what happens to child contact arrangements during the lockdown.
Every case is different, and we urge families to contact a specialist family lawyer for more detailed advice but here are some general pointers:
1. On 23 March, the government published full guidance on ‘staying at home’ and ‘away from others’. People are no longer permitted to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work. This guidance also clarified that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.’
2. On 24 March, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, provided additional advice on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders. Child Arrangements Order should be complied with, and any informal agreements should continue unless doing so would put your child or others at risk.
3. Whilst the government guidelines provide an exception to the mandatory stay at home rules for children of separated parents, they do not positively oblige parents to continue current arrangements. Parents should seek to agree what is best for their child in the individual circumstances, bearing in mind the child’s present health, the presence of any high risk or vulnerable individuals in each of the homes and the risk of infection. According to Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is important that families amicably try to find solutions that are in the best interests of the child and the health of those around them. They have put together some advice to encourage effective co-parenting and help maintain your child’s routine in these uncertain times: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/
4. Social distancing measures should still be adhered to when children are commuting to and from parents’ homes, for example, find a suitable open public space, a supermarket car park, and transfer the children between cars, without any other interaction. Alternatively, one parent should be responsible for the collect and return of the children and that parent should not enter the other property but simply drop the children outside and watch them enter the property.
5. It may be beneficial for separated parents to discuss and agree the approach being taken in each of their homes in regards to hygiene and other preventative measures, so that parents (and their children) feel reassured that the same rules apply in both homes.
6. If you cannot reach an agreement on the safest way forward, you should take specialist legal advice.