Coronavirus: Child Arrangement Orders
Child arrangements can be reached formally by a Court Order or informally by being agreed between separated parents. They cover who the child will live with and when the child will spend time with the other parent.
On 23 March 2020, the government announced a national lockdown for at least three weeks, where people must stay at home except for a limited set of circumstances. The government have now confirmed that children under the age of 18 being moved between their parent’s houses is a legitimate reason to leave the house during the lockdown.
It is essential that during these difficult times the first and most important consideration should be what is best and safest for the wellbeing of the child, which, where possible, should include the child spending time with both parents regularly.
If both parents are well and show no symptoms of coronavirus (please check the Gov.uk website for symptoms) then there are no reasons as to why the normal contact arrangements should not continue, albeit with added precautions, and parents are permitted to travel between each other’s houses to facilitate the contact. It is possible to vary a Court Order by agreement between the parties if necessary.
The government guidelines recommend that if someone in your household presents symptoms of coronavirus then the entire household should self-isolate for 14 days. Should this happen, the child should remain with the parent they are with at that moment in time, but it is essential that this is communicated to the other parent.
If a child is expected to self-isolate because they are a vulnerable person, parents will be expected to be flexible in regard to this. Clearly, a child’s health should take priority in this situation, despite the fact that it could mean that parents go many weeks, or months, without any physical contact.
If a parent is unable to see a child directly then it is in the child’s best interests to still have contact with that parent indirectly through methods such as Skype, Facetime etc.
It may be that your ex-partner is a key worker and you are now working from home, or vice versa. You may try to arrange for the child to either live with or spend more time with you during this time because of your concerns regarding coronavirus. Before doing this it important that the other parent agrees to this. If they do not then the Court Order (if there is one in place) will continue to have effect.
Whilst the government have advised that travel for children between parents houses is a legitimate reason for travel, parents may need to discuss contact handover arrangements where these are ordered to take place in public or involve an elderly family member. Where handovers are ordered to take place in public, parents, where possible, should find a suitable open public space, eg. a supermarket car park, and transfer the children between cars without any other interaction. Alternatively, it has been suggested that one parent should be responsible for the collection 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.
Another problem will inevitably be where contact takes place in a dedicated contact centre as these will undoubtedly have to close and contact will have to stop for the foreseeable future. In these circumstances, it may be possible to negotiate with the other parent that contact takes place indirectly though Facetime or other methods. It has been advised that if indirect contact is the only form of contact available then there should be no time restraints placed on this.
It has also been advised that if for reasons of work or self-isolation that the child has to spend more time with one parent than the other, which is outside of the normal routine, this is unlikely to impact the long term arrangements. Whilst some parents may see this as an opportunity to manipulate the Court Order, this will be frowned upon should the matter ever proceed to Court as they are clearly not putting the best interests of the children first.
No agreement can be reached
Ultimately, parents will know themselves what is in the best interests of their children and how they can best help their children through these uncertain times. It is hoped that parents will be able to work through these difficult times themselves.
It is important for parents to remember that during these difficult times routine should not trump the safety of the child. The first and more important consideration should be what is best and safest for the wellbeing of the child.
However, without an agreement to amend the contact arrangements provided for in the Order then the terms of the Court Order will continue to have effect until such a time that the parent becomes physically unable to look after the child.
If urgent action is needed and Court intervention is required, then it may be necessary to make an application to Court requesting that the Order be enforced. At present the Courts are trialling hearings via video link, but this is changing daily and it is likely that there will be substantial delays in applications being processed and cases being heard. The situation surrounding the Courts is changing daily and whilst they will not stop functioning, they will be operating differently and it is recommended that parents try and resolve all conflicts by agreement.
At Keebles LLP we have the facilities in place to enable us to undertake hearings via video link and have already undertaken a number of hearings successfully in this way. Through remote working we remain operational and able to assist our clients.
If you are concerned about any of these issues concerning your children, please contact Rebecca Crofts at email@example.com or call Rebecca on 0114 290 6265