New measures have been introduced by the Government in response to the current Covid-19 crisis. These measures require everyone to stay at home for a 3 week period, except in the following circumstances:
- Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
- One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home
What does this mean in terms of spending time arrangements for children of separated parents? Whilst not specifically referred to by the prime minister in his address on 23 March 2020, clarification has been provided by the government that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes where parents do not live in the same household.
In circumstances whereby the arrangements for your child/ children are governed by a court order, the arrangements should ordinarily be adhered to, unless to do so would place your child or others at risk. This should also be the case where arrangements have been agreed between parents without the involvement of the court. Where you are self-isolating as a result of experiencing symptoms of Covid – 19, the Government guidance is that any members of your household (including children) must remain at home for 14 days. This may mean that contact arrangements cannot take place as usual.
Helpful guidance has been issued by CAFCASS in respect of co-parenting and child arrangements at the present time. The guidance can be found here: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/?highlight=covid%2019 This advice includes that where it is safe to do so, co-parents should communicate clearly and honestly with one another if arrangements cannot go ahead and should think about how any missed time with one parent may be made up. It also advises that parents think creatively about how their child can maintain some form of contact with their other parent during any periods of self-isolation, such as by video calls. The President of the Family Court has also provided guidance today about compliance with child arrangements orders, reiterating the importance of good communication between parents about child arrangements during this crisis, he states that ‘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.’ The guidance can be found here: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/
Each family is different and will have to make their own arrangements considering all relevant factors. This guidance may not be so easily applied in situations whereby contact does not take place in the home of the child’s parent/ takes place at a contact centre for example, or where contact handovers take place at a contact centre or other public place.
If face to face contact does not take place, it is important that alternative arrangements such as Facetime/Skype contact etc is established to maintain contact.
If you would like advice about the issues in this post, or are unsure about how the current situation affects arrangements you have in place and your resultant legal position, please do get in touch with our children team on 0203 440 8000 or A_FamilyReferrals@tvedwards.com. We have a team of experienced solicitors including Resolution Accredited specialists who are able to offer specialist legal advice.