In what has been a very difficult week for many families, one of the key issues for separated parents has been what effect the government-mandated lockdown will have on arrangements for children. In this article we look very briefly at the current guidance and consider on the real life implications it will have for families.
Many will be aware that earlier this week the government sought to clarify the situation, saying that children of separated parents CAN still move between both parents homes during this period of lockdown, provided it is safe and appropriate for them to do so.
The full government guidance can be found here.
The Judiciary have also issued some very helpful guidance on this matter which can be found here.
The take-away is that children can and should continue to see both parents whenever this is possible. At a time when children are likely to be feeling more confused or distressed, it will be important to stick to a routine they are used to as much as you can. There will, however, be many factors which should be considered by parents when deciding whether their current child arrangements are safe in these very new circumstances. Both parents will be able to continue to exercise their parental responsibility and make decisions together regarding the health and welfare of their children.
The Judiciary guidance mentioned above states:
“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.”
So long as parents can reach an agreement there is no need to refer to the Court, even if there is an existing order in place, or even if you are in the middle of proceedings. Both parents can put in place temporary arrangements for the children if they jointly decide that the current arrangements are not safe. We would recommend recording any agreement in writing, even if just by email or text message, so that all parties are clear on what the new temporary arrangements will be.
If an agreement still cannot be reached then one parent can make a decision regarding child arrangements unilaterally so long as this is in the best interests of the children. It is important that reasons for suspending contact are well thought-out and absolutely necessary to the child’s or others’ welfare. Any decision ultimately must be in the child’s best interests, as this is what the court will consider if any application is made to enforce child arrangements. If the court find that the decision was not in the best interests of the child then this can result in penalties such as fines or community service being imposed, or permanent changes to future arrangements.
Of course, it must also be said that if anyone is presenting with symptoms of the virus in either household then the child must self-isolate in accordance with NHS advice and must not leave home for the duration of their self-isolation.
Furthermore, it should also be considered that any temporary change in circumstances should not affect future child arrangements. We are in unprecedented times, and while the court may usually consider changes in arrangements an important factor, in these circumstances it is highly unlikely that any temporary agreements made now will affect future child arrangements if these are still being negotiated.
If you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement with your ex-partner about child arrangements, Major Family Law offers a free, no obligation initial appointment. These are very difficult and stressful times, and it can be useful to receive free impartial advice on your own personal circumstances. We hope this will then allow parents to communicate more effectively and reach an agreement about any temporary arrangements.
If you have would like to speak with any of our experienced solicitors then please call client manager Helen Charlton on 01661 824 582.
Stephanie Layton is a solicitor and accredited Family Law Specialist
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