During the current COVID-19 pandemic we have seen an increasing number of parents approach us with worries and concerns about child arrangements. Whether these were official arrangements that were applied through the courts, or individual arrangements agreed outside the court system, parents are unsure how the government restrictions apply to their current situation and could give rise to disagreements with co-parents and other parties. Not only do certain parents question if they’re entitlement to access is being undermined or ignored, but other parents question whether they’re breaking the rules by restricting access. In this article we seek to give some clarity on these issues.

Government guidelines may be revised as there are developments during the coronavirus crisis, but at present – ‘The Staying at Home’ guidance on 23rd March states “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents homes.” This however does not mean that children must be moved between homes.  CAFCASS have also issued guidelines which sets out that unless there are justified medical or self-isolation issues regarding any particular family member, it is important to maintain a child’s usual routine of spending time with each of their parents. When child arrangement orders are in place-these should be abided -with, unless there is a genuine health risk in doing so.

Our Top Tips when a court order is in place…

-If you have children living with you and you are unable to comply with certain aspects of the order (such as making the children available for their other parent), you should contact the other parent immediately and set out a proposal in writing of how they can contact them. The Government guidelines should be adhered to in whatever decisions are made here.

-Variations to a Court Order should be agreed in writing. If variations to the order cannot be agreed, speak to one of our lawyers for independent advice. An application to the court to add a variation to the order may be necessary.

-If you feel that a Child Arrangements Order is being ignored outright, an application to enforce the order and/or apply for a ‘specific issue order’ are possible -solutions and the courts are still dealing with applications. Please speak to our team if you would like further information on these steps.

Some practical tips from Cafcass

– If difficulties arise for face-to-face contact, parents should think creatively about how they can stay in touch with the other parent who is at another address. During periods of self-isolation this is hugely important. Video calling software such as Zoom, Skype and Facebook Facetime? are great ways in which the other parent can play games and read stories together. In addition, there are screen sharing applications that allow families to watch videos and films together simultaneously.

-Ensure the children cannot –hear discussions about any disputes you may have with your child’s other parent. Exposing your child to any discussions about court cases will only add to their worries in these precarious times which could cause confusion, divided loyalties and could emotionally harm them. If there are court hearings and conferences at home via skype etc over the coming months, you should take extra precautions that they are not subjected to the case.

Full guidelines about co-parenting and child arrangements through the current global pandemic can be read here.

It is evident that there may be key decisions to be made in relation to your child’s supervision and living arrangements over the coming weeks (and possibly months) but it’s ultimately for both co-parents to have open dialogue with each other and make collective decisions based on their circumstances. With regard to the law, in situations where parents share parental responsibility (as in most cases), the key decisions on a child’s upbringing should be made jointly. However, it should not be presumed that there is a preference in both parents being involved in the child’s upbringing in the Children Act 1989. Ultimately, in the courts, decisions are made solely on the welfare of the child, whether that includes both parents or not.

How we can help

We have one of the largest family law team in the region, with law society accredited specialists ready to advise and represent you if required. All of our lawyers are working remotely and can be accessed by calling our head office number on 0113 284 5000 or alternatively emailing at family@isonharrison.co.uk

Our lawyers offer a free initial consultation so please give us a call for a confidential chat to help give you clarity on your situation.