COVID-19 has brought with it a new set of challenges for separated parents who share care for their children. The Prime Minister announced that people were not to visit their friends or family members during the three week ‘lockdown’ period – but what did that mean for children of separated parents?
There has been a widespread concern that one parent would be unable to see their child/children for an unusual extended period of time, causing strain amongst families and particularly for children.
While it appeared to be the case that no family members should visit each other at all, the Prime Minister left some uncertainty by stating that ‘it may be necessary’ for some to move. The Government has now clarified that the official guidance is that children under 18 years of age can be moved between households if their parents are separated.
Parents with children who are subject to a Child Arrangements Order raised particular concerns as to how flexible these can be following Government COVID-19 guidance. The starting point is that Court Orders need to be adhered to as much as possible. However, you should only maintain the arrangements within the Court Order, provided you can do so safely within the Government’s new stay at home guidance. Similarly, advice from CAFCASS is that child arrangements should be adhered to wherever possible. Parents will need to give thought to making arrangements workable while ensuring everyone’s safety.
A problem may arise where contact handovers usually occur at school or in another public place. It may not always be possible for handovers to happen at one parent’s home, therefore careful consideration will need to be given for alternative arrangements, remembering the essential need for social distancing.
What can Separated Parents Do to Help?
It may not be possible to stick to Court Orders strictly during the COVID-19 lockdown measures. For example, if your child is displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 then they should be self-isolating and should not be moving between households.
Co-parenting can be tricky in normal circumstances, but it is essential that during these uncertain and challenging times the welfare of the child is the number one consideration of the parents. Parents should continue to facilitate contact insofar as is possible and ideally only make changes to orders or established arrangements by agreement. However, one parent may feel that the usual arrangement or order is no longer safe and may exercise their parental responsibility and make a change unilaterally if they think that is necessary for the child’s safety. If court proceedings follow, then the Family Court will consider whether the parents acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of current guidance at the time.
Making other Arrangements
If the contact arrangements are unable to continue, parents should make use of apps such as FaceTime or Zoom, which will allow contact to continue in some form and consider increasing the frequency of non-face to face contact so the child feels they are keeping in touch, even if they are not having the physical contact they would usually have.
Parents should set out what they feel is appropriate for the child when they are in the other parent’s care, for example, the child needs to stay indoors or not go to supermarkets or should not be seeing other family members who may pose a risk e.g. if they are self-isolation or showing symptoms of COVID-19.
As schools are closed parents should also agree, if possible, on what sort of schoolwork each parent should be arranging for the child to do whilst with them and ensure the child has the appropriate resources to do it.
If Parents Can’t Agree
If parents really can’t agree arrangements then it may be best to try to set up a mediation session by telephone conference call or webcam. Ultimately the courts are available to resolve disputes, but with limited resources and almost no face to face hearings, they are not going to be able to offer anything more than an urgent decision to fix a short term problem, probably by phone conference call.
Parents need to be as flexible as possible during the COVID-19 lockdown. If you are a separated parent and need some advice our Family team is always on hand to help. Please contact our offices on 01228 552222 or email email@example.com . Please note that both telephone and video appointments can be arranged during this period of self-isolation.