Prime Minister Johnson set out new restrictions upon movement as of the evening on Monday 23 March 2020 known as the ‘Stay at Home Rules’. Individuals are being instructed not to leave the house unless it is of absolute necessity.

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:

  • Maintain a sense of routine that will help your child to feel safe and secure.
  • Unless there are justified medical/self-isolation issues; children should also maintain their usual routine of spending time with each of their parents. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place this should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others at risk.
  • If you’re not able to maintain your child’s routine due to illness or self-isolation, or non-availability of people who ordinarily support your child’s contact, then communicate clearly  and honestly with your co-parent.
  • Think creatively about how you can support your child to stay in touch with their other parent and family members during any period of self-isolation. Skype and Facetime can be great ways to catch up and can be used to read stories, sing and play together.
  • If any court directed spending time arrangements are missed, think about how you and your co-parent may be able to ‘make up’ your child’s time after the restrictions are lifted. Any rearranged spending time arrangements should always be for your child’s benefit.
  • Be extra vigilant when making sure that children cannot hear discussions about the court case or any dispute you may have with your child’s other parent.
  • Unless you or your child has an underlying health condition or other vulnerability, transporting them from one home to the other would usually be a legitimate journey (based on the current government guidance).
  • Think carefully about maintaining a two-meter distance from other people, carrying hand sanitiser and tissues, and thoroughly washing hands on arrival home.
  • It is crucial that both parents practice sensible hygiene. This means following Government advice.

If you are navigating the bounds of separated parenting and need some expert legal advice or simply require more detail please contact Andrew Smith or Lilly Grant in our York office, Chris Burns or Sophie Arrowsmith 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.

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