Guidance issued by the Government initially was unclear on child contact arrangements during the coronavirus lockdown.
However, further advice has now been published which provides greater clarity to parents.
The advice issued via the Courts and Judiciary website states:
- “Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order [‘CAO’] made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court.
- Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23 March [‘the Stay at Home Rules’].
- The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear: it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
- Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says:
- Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
- This establishes an exception to the mandatory ‘stay at home’ requirement; it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s 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.
- Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
- Where, either as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the CAO, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
If you cannot agree
Unfortunately, a lot of separated parents will be unable to reach agreement.
There are ways forward, and we would suggest in the first place that you consider an urgent telephone/video call meeting with a mediator or trusted neutral third party.
If you have an Order in place, the default position is that the Order will continue to be in effect if agreement is not possible.