The ‘Stay at Home’ guidance on essential travel now notes that parents are allowed to travel to transfer a child under the age of 18 to their other parent’s home. Parents have parental responsibility for their children and they are best placed to be making the day to day decisions for their children. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
If you have a Court Order setting out terms of any contact arrangements, then the advice is that you are able to send the child to the other parents home, in accordance with the Order, so long as you have carried out the assessment as above.
It will be sensible, in the very unprecedented circumstances that we are faced with, to ensure that you communicate with the other parent as to the child’s welfare, insofar as you are able to. It is entirely reasonable for you or the other parent to be worried about Covid-19 and those concerns should be voiced. The Government advises that essential travel should also be limited. If you can arrange to alter arrangements for your child to allow for extended periods rather than several more shorter contacts, then this would be recommended.
The Court have issued advice and guidance that the parents may temporarily agree to vary the terms of any Court Order and should maintain a record of the variations they plan to impose. It is key that the spirit of the Order should be maintained as long as there are safe arrangements for the children.
If you have tried to suggest an alternative arrangement for your child during these restrictions and the other parent disagrees, you are able to exercise your parental responsibility to vary the arrangement to one you consider safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
Those parents currently spending time or due to spend time with their children in a contact centre will inevitably face even further uncertainty. Many contact centres have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. Parents are asked to consider alternative methods of contact such as Facetime/Skype to allow children to spend time with their other parent in a controlled way.
Cafcass, the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service, have set out some helpful guidance to those of you who may be co-parenting at this difficult and uncertain time. Their National Improvement Service have provided us with the following clear helpful tips for separated parents as follows:
If you are navigating the bounds of separated parenting and need some expert legal advice or simply require more detail please contact Andrew Smith in our York office, Chris Burns in our Leeds office or Richard Buckley in our Sheffield office.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.