The Information in this article is relevant post 5th November 2020 and beyond
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a further national lockdown as of 5th November 2020, which although less stringent than that faced earlier this year, will still have a significant impact on day to day life.
For separated parents, the current climate is understandably problematic and often fraught with difficulties when it comes to the arrangements for their children. The Government guidance has raised significant questions for children who live between the homes of separated parents or spend time with their other parent e.g. on weekends and during school holidays.
At Holmes Family Law we have seen an ever-increasing number of parents contacting us with concerns about the arrangements for their children during this worrying time. Depending upon your circumstances, in terms of whether the arrangements are subject to a Court Order or are individual arrangements agreed privately outside of the Court system, separated parents are often unsure about how the government restrictions apply to their situation. This can give rise to disagreements as parents struggle to interpret the guidance whilst also striving to do what they believe is in the best interests of their children.
Our Government and the President of the Family Law Division have issued clear guidance which specifies that parents should stick to previously agreed child arrangements, in order to maintain their children’s normal routine. On 24th March 2020, the Government clarified that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes and so their usual arrangements can and should continue.
The decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for their parents to make in the best interests of their children. Parents should make an assessment of the circumstances, including their child’s health, the risk of infection, and any health condition that makes them or another member of your household vulnerable to the impact of the virus.
The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (referred to as ‘CAFCASS’) advise that children should maintain their usual routine of spending time with each of their parents unless there are justified medical/ self-isolation issues (or guidance issued by the Government in future that affects your ability to leave the house).
What if one parent is self-isolating or taken ill?
The current guidance states that if anyone has one of the listed symptoms they should self-isolate for 7 days and anyone in contact with an infected person should self-isolate for 14 days.
This means that if your child is spending time with you and you (or another member of your household) develops one of the listed symptoms, then your child should remain where they are and self-isolate for 14 days.
If self-isolation requirements mean that your children have to spend more time with the other parent and this is outside the normal routine, CAFCASS advises that they do not think such changes would merit a shift in the status quo in respect of long-term arrangements. If faced with this situation, they stress the importance of continuing to promote the relationship between your child and their other parent. Parents will be advised to facilitate alternative, indirect contact between the other parent and their children, such as by phone, FaceTime, and Skype. Where children have missed out on spending time with one parent, the other may want to agree to the missed time being made up e.g. during holiday periods.
If your child has been asked to self-isolate, however, the rules are a little less clear. Guidance suggests that social distancing and even self-isolation do not mean that the arrangements you have in place for your children should fall away. These arrangements remain effective and should continue to be followed. CAFCASS advises that taking children from one home to another is a legitimate journey according to Cafcass and government guidelines.
The overall welfare of your child when trying to organise new arrangements should be your paramount consideration. This is the basic principle that a Court would apply and would expect you to follow Government Coronavirus guidelines as to what may be deemed safe in your individual circumstances.
If you require any further advice and assistance, or in the event you are unable to agree on arrangements for your child during the COVID19 pandemic, please do not hesitate to get in contact with one of our expert Family Law Solicitors. We offer a comprehensive and free initial consultation over the telephone or via Skype / Facetime. You do not have to manage the situation alone and we are here to support all of our clients, both new and existing, with family law issues arising during the pandemic. We will assist, wherever possible, in helping you to manage the situation with your former partner so that the needs of your children may be prioritised.