Guidance for separated parents with children during Covid-19 Crisis
During the current Covid-19 pandemic many separated parents understandably have concerns about whether it is safe for their children to spend time with the other parent and how it should be managed, particularly now that schools have largely closed. It is now more important than ever to co-parent effectively, ensure routine and minimise conflict.
On 23rd March the government issued ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’. Government guidance issued alongside these Rules, on the same day, specifically deals with child contact arrangements.
The President of the Family Division has also on the 24th March issued specific guidance in relation to ensuring compliance with Family Court Orders.
The Government guidance 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 parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances. Considerations might include the child’s present health, the risk of infection, the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other, the child’s home schooling and each parents’ working arrangements.
The best thing, now more than ever, is for parents to communicate and come up with a solution taking in to account the child’s best interests as well as the health of the child and the wider family. Try your best to take in to consideration any concerns the other parent raises, this is a stressful and unprecedented time for everyone with many complex factors to take in to consideration.
Where it is not possible for a child to spend time with the other parent, whether by agreement or not, it is important to try to set up and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent (within the Stay at Home Rules). You may need to be creative in how this is done, for example, by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or, if that is not possible, by telephone. It may be that these calls should take place more often if face-to-face contact cannot happen. If time is going to be missed out on, consideration may need to be given to this time being made up later in the year. Reassurance will need to be given to children that both parents love them and are safe and healthy, to minimise the child’s anxiety as much as possible.
If there is a court order in place (and there may not always be) a parent with Parental Responsibility (PR) can exercise their PR to change the existing arrangement, however the President makes clear that ‘the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.’ It would be sensible for any variation to a court order to be recorded in writing be it by email, text message or a written note.
If you are unable to agree changes to an existing Court Order we can help with this, including signposting to family consultants and mediators who can carry out telephone and video consultations.
Cafcass, offers further guidance to support families and children during this developing situation at https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/
This short note is intended as general guidance only and not legal advice, each families circumstances will differ. Please contact our Family and Children lawyers for advice on family law matters during this difficult time.