Following the advice of the Government to “stay at home”, the Courts have issued guidance around Child Arrangement Orders during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
When the lockdown was initially announced, the President of the Family Division issued guidance around existing Child Arrangement Orders and whether these should be complied with. The general guidance was that the orders should continue as prescribed unless it wasn’t feasible for one of the following reasons:
- Health risk due to self-isolating or someone in the household being a vulnerable person
- Reliance on public transport
- Lack of available supervision as requested by the order
In a number of cases, access and orders may have been suspended due to one of the above concerns. Now that lockdown is slowly easing, the original orders are now able to resume as intended.
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Could Covid-19 it be considered a reasonable excuse for Child Arrangement Orders not to be resumed?
This is dependant entirely on specific family circumstances. If a parent decides not to resume contact, this will be viewed by the courts retrospectively in line with the current Government guidance. This will look at whether the parents have acted reasonably, and whether the risk justifies the breach of the Child Arrangements Order. If the child is medically vulnerable or a member of the family needs to self-isolate, then it may mean that the has been no breach based on these circumstances. The current situation should not be used for a parent to gain an unfair advantage over the other, and as per the guidance, all Child Arrangement Orders should be complied with.
Can Child Arrangement Orders be modified during this time?
Alterations to contact times or alternative contact arrangements (e.g. video calls etc) should be arranged via direct contact. As a last resort, the Family Courts are working as normal and enforcement action can still be taken. For action to be taken, you would need to prove to the court that there has been a breach of the order, and there is no “reasonable excuse” in breaching the order.