April 8, 2020
At Thomson & Bancks, we are now regularly being asked “can the children go for contact with Mum or Dad during the Coronavirus pandemic?”
Covid-19 is having serious implications on everyone to live normal lives and, as such, family arrangements are being disrupted. The Government is clear in its guidance. People should only leave the house for one of four reasons:
Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. The guidelines say no more than that. However, whilst the guidelines state that, whilst children can be moved between separated parents, it does not mean that children “must” be moved between homes. The decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make in the best interests of the child after an 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.
The guidelines say: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
Some further useful guidance has been provided by Cafcass (Government body who advise and assist the Courts regarding child arrangements) can be found here: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/
Parents are concerned that they may be breaking court orders if they and their children need to self-isolate at home, which will mean that they cannot spend time with their other parent during this period. Others are concerned that the current situation is being used to flout arrangements, whether agreed informally between parents, or ordered by a court. You should not see the current situation as an opportunity to manipulate agreed arrangements or a court order. This is likely to be frowned upon by the courts in the long run and in reality could be more damaging for the children, who will be worried and anxious enough with their lives and routines having been abruptly turned upside down taking into account their ages, level of understanding.
Think about your children not about yourself.
Parents should talk to each other sensibly about how Lockdown and self-isolation are to work for their family and to make sure that this is followed by each household.
If you are travelling between homes with your children to stick to agreed arrangements, if possible avoid public transport and minimise the risk of coming into contact with other people. Clean your hands regularly and avoid spreading germs through contact with different surfaces.
Sticking to arrangements clearly becomes difficult where households are having to self-isolate. If this happens, it is important to discuss how contact with the children’s other parent will be maintained. If the children are well enough, lots of FaceTime, Skype or other video contact is beneficial. Think of other creative ways to maintain contact at a distance. If you live near each other, the non-isolating parent could drop supplies to the other, especially supplies for the children. Now is a time to really pull together if you can do so.
If both yourself and the non-resident parent are not displaying Coronavirus symptoms, allowing the children to have contact with the non-resident parent is reasonable, but both yourself and the non-resident parent should be socially distancing from “everybody else” to avoid any spread of the virus. Think about others who may live in your household as to their circumstances.
If possible, have a conversation with the non-resident parent about how you are going to manage this time and what you will do if one of you becomes ill. Discuss ground rules you plan to set together for the benefit of the children to act in a way that conforms with government guidelines around Coronavirus, how to deal with home schooling and other activities within the household.
If the children are living with you and the non-resident parent has Coronavirus symptoms, contact should not happen. Not allowing contact in this case is unlikely to be seen by the court as a breach of an existing court order.
Ideally, take them by car. When conducting the handover, remain two metres from the non-resident parent and allow your children to walk over to them if that is possible depending on the age of the children.
If you are concerned about any of the Coronavirus symptoms in yourself, children should not go to the non-resident parent in case they are carrying the virus from you. Again, this is unlikely to be seen by the court of a breach of any order regarding contact.
Please be aware that government guidelines might change and so it is best to keep up to date with news and government guidelines yourselves. If you have concerns and need some guidance/assistance, please contact our Family Law Department who can guide and assist you where possible. This is all new to each and every one of us including ourselves at Thomson & Bancks Solicitors.
Chrys is an experienced Solicitor, specialising in Family Law; relationship breakdowns, divorces, financial matters, Children and cases involving domestic violence. She is accredited by the organisation “Resolution”, certified to assist in Financial Provision and Children Law work. Details of the organisation Resolution can be found here.
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