On 23 March 2020, the government issued new rules on ‘Staying at Home and Away from Other People’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rules state that everyone in the UK should stay at home and only leave the house for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home).
With regard to children of separated parents, the extended guidance states that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’. This means that children are permitted to travel between households for the purpose of maintaining contact with both parents. However, it does not mean that children must move between households where it is unsafe to do so.
The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice of the High Court, the Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane has provided further clarification as to how the guidance should be applied when a Child Arrangements Order is in place. He advises that the best solution is for parents to have a discussion about practical arrangements and to consider all of the relevant circumstances including the health of the child, the risk of infection, and whether either household contains any vulnerable individuals.
If parents are able to agree a temporary variation to the arrangements set out in a Child Arrangements Order, they are free to do so. If one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the Child Arrangements Order would be contrary to the current government guidance, they may vary the arrangements even if both parties are unable to reach an agreement. However, if their conduct is questioned by the other parent at a later date in the Family Court, then the Court will be entitled to consider whether parties acted reasonably in consideration of the official guidance in place at that time. It is important therefore to only vary arrangements without an agreement where there is a good reason to do so.
Where contact arrangements are varied, if this means that the child has less contact with one parent than what is specified in the Child Arrangements Order, alternative arrangements should be made to facilitate regular contact electronically, for example by WhatsApp, Face-Time or Skype.
The circumstances of each child and family will differ, and so it may be sensible to seek further legal advice about your own personal situation.
At Ellisons, we remain committed to helping you during these difficult times and are able to offer initial appointments by telephone. If you would like to talk to one of our family lawyers please get in touch.
COVID-19: In these extraordinary times we recognise how difficult it is to find time to do everything, let alone seek legal advice. This is especially the case where you are living with your partner or spouse and are considering separating, or have your children with you during the day.
Therefore, we are now able to offer flexible telephone appointments to meet your personal needs, whether that is in the evenings, early mornings or weekends as well as our usual office hours. If making that initial call to book an appointment is difficult please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance and we can arrange a meeting by email.