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Coronavirus and the impact on contact with your child
- AuthorNameeta Gujral
We find ourselves in what can only be described as unprecedented and challenging times. This is having an impact on all aspects of our lives in ways we could have never imagined. For separated parents, there is the added worry about how contact with the non-resident parent can be maintained.
Government advice is very clear. There are only four reasons why we are permitted to leave our home:
- To buy essential basic necessities as infrequently as possible
- To exercise with people from your household once a day as long as you practice social distancing;
- For medical needs, to provide care or help for a vulnerable person
- To travel to and from work if your job is completely necessary and it cannot be done from home
This has left many parents confused about what happens with children seeing their non-resident parent, especially where Court Orders are in place. Below we consider the impact of the coronavirus on child arrangements.
Does the nationwide lockdown mean I cannot see my child?
The government has confirmed that “where parents do not live in the same household children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes” (full guidance at the end of this article). This does not mean that children must be moved between homes. It is for parents to make a sensible assessment of the circumstances to include the child’s present health, the risk of infections and the presence of vulnerable individuals in either household.
We have a court order in place; can we change the arrangements for our child?
Yes parents are able to agree alternative arrangements for contact and the time the child spends with both parents. In these difficult times the welfare and wellbeing of your child is of paramount consideration. Alternate arrangements to ensure that your child sees both parents is telephone calls, video calls using software such as Skype, What’s App, Facetime etc.
My ex-partner is suffering from symptoms; should my child come to live with me?
In addition to the advice on when we can leave our homes, if someone within your household has symptoms of Coronavirus, the entire household must self-isolate for 14 days. Therefore your child will not be able to come and live with you. This is when video and/or telephone calls can maintain that contact with your child. Once the self isolation period has ended, and subject to your child not having symptoms, contact can continue.
My ex-partner is a vulnerable person and/or at higher risk. Should my child come and live with me?
This will need to be agreed with your ex-partner. Even if there is a Child Arrangements Order providing for your child to live with one parent, you are able to make alternate arrangements if this is in the best interest of your child and agreed with the other parent the welfare of your child is of paramount importance.
My ex-partner and I cannot agree on alternate arrangements for contact. What am I permitted to do?
If there is a Court Order in place, and you have done everything you can to agree alternate arrangements for your child, the guidance from the Court suggests that you can make decisions that you believe are necessary to act in the best interests of your child. Once this is all over, the Court will consider whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official government advice that we must all stay at home and any specific concerns regarding your child or family.
My ex-partner is being unreasonable with the arrangements for contact; what can I do?
If your child lives with you and your ex-partner is putting you under pressure to have contact and is going against the Government guidance, you should take independent legal advice.
If the lock down is being used by your ex-partner to prevent contact when there is no justified reason for contact to be stopped, then you should obtain independent legal advice as this situation is likely to continue for months.
Martin Tolhurst solicitors have specialist solicitors who can advise on all aspects of arrangements for children. We can offer you an initial 45 minute consultation telephone appointment for £99.00 inclusive of VAT. Telephone 01795 416931 or 01634 729641 to speak with our experts and book an appointment.
Below is the advice issued via the Courts and Judiciary website:
- “Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order [‘CAO’] made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court.
- Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23 March [‘the Stay at Home Rules’].
- The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear: it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
- Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says:
- Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
- This establishes an exception to the mandatory ‘stay at home’ requirement; it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. 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.
- Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
- Where, either as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the CAO, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.