Maintaining contact with your children during the pandemic – frequently asked questions:
Are you able to tell me what the current rules are in respect of contact arrangements for a parent living outside of the child’s main household?
Given the frequency by which the rules have been changed since the pandemic began, I would not be surprised if you couldn’t! I imagine even the most avid BBC news viewer would struggle!
As a result of the general uncertainty caused by the ever-changing restrictions and the understandable concern in relation to contracting the virus, this is a very uncertain time for many separated parents dealing with and facilitating child arrangements either as agreed with their co-parent or by way of a child arrangements order.
This article should help to clarify some of the current rules in relation to child arrangements and highlight some general but useful considerations.
Can my child move between the homes of separated parents?
Yes. The original guidance issued prior to the first lockdown in March 2020 did not permit children to move between households as this did not constitute a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving the home.
Government guidance issued quickly after the installation of the first lockdown changed the position to allow children under the age of 18 to move between their separated parents’ homes freely. The guidance has not since been updated or altered.
What if my child is self-isolating?
If a parent receives a notification through the NHS Covid-19 app, or, someone that their child has been in close contact with recently contacts them, to say that their child has come into close contact with an individual that has tested positive with coronavirus, the parent must, so far as is reasonably practicable, make sure that the child self-isolates for a period of 10 days. Visiting the home of the other separated parent during the period of self-isolating is not a listed reason for the child to leave the home under paragraph 2(3) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020.
If the contact between parents is court ordered, the guidance from the President of the Family Division issued in March 2020 is to be followed. This dictates that, where direct contact may not be possible, the spirit of the order should be delivered by making alternative arrangements through use of remote platforms such as Facetime, Skype, Zoom etc.
I am worried about compliance with child arrangements, what can I do?
In situations where parents act in agreement in relation to child contact arrangements either court ordered or otherwise, they are free to decide on temporary variations, all the while upholding the spirit of the order/agreement.
In a situation where parents do not agree to variations and one parent is worried that compliance with a child arrangements order would be against current Public Health England advice, that parent can elect to exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to one they feel is safe. Where the other parent is dissatisfied with this, they can ask the court to determine the issue. The court will look at the actions of each parent and judge whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of official advice.
In a situation which would mean one parent who would otherwise, under a child arrangements order, get to spend time with their child and now does not as a result of the variance of arrangements by the other, the court would expect alternative arrangements to be made to maintain contact (i.e., through remote platforms such as Face-Time, Skype, Zoom etc.).
Try and make sure when varying arrangements, should there be a need too, that the child’s welfare is prioritised. The court’s paramount consideration when dealing with contact applications is the welfare of any child so do make sure that the child or children are afforded similar contact to that which they were having prior to the pandemic with the non-resident parent.
Be flexible. As current times remain uncertain you will need to factor in that there may need to be a change in routines or arrangements which previously ran seamlessly. Do your best to make sure that life continues as normally as possible for your child or children.
Try to work with your co-parent to reach agreement as to contact arrangements where possible utilising any and all technological methods for indirect contact where direct contact is not possible.
Should you need assistance in relation to dealing with contact arrangements please do not hesitate to contact us.