Child arrangements during Coronavirus. We look at the impact of COVID-19 on child arrangements and access and consider whether they can be varied during the crisis.
We are all facing an unprecedented crisis at the moment which is impacting on everyone in so many different ways. One major worry for separated parents is access and child arrangements during Coronavirus. In particular, what they should do if they cannot follow a court order?
Child Arrangements Orders
Any parent who has been involved in court proceedings concerning their children will be aware of the importance of Court Orders. The Courts do not look favourably on parents who breach these Orders and consequences can be harsh.
In these very uncertain times, many parents are worried about how the current restrictions on movement could impact on arrangements for access to their children.
Guidance from the President of the Family Court
The President of the Family Court has issued helpful guidance for parents who have a Child Arrangements Order in place. On the 23rd March the Government issued Stay at Home Rules which included the following statement about separated parents:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
This is therefore an exception to the Stay at Home Rule. However, it does not mean that children just move between homes. All parties to Child Arrangements Orders have Parental Responsibility for those children and are expected to exercise this in a child-focused and sensible way. You should keep yourself informed about the latest Government guidance and follow this. If you or your child are showing Coronavirus symptoms, or if someone else in either household has a pre-existing condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus, then exercise common sense and take the recommended precautions.
If children cannot see a parent due to self-isolation, then think about alternative channels of communication, such as phone or video calls, and think about how the missed time can be made up later. Remember that this is about the child’s time with each parent and things should be kept as normal as possible for them.
If you do agree between yourselves to vary a Court Order until the current restrictions are lifted, it is a good idea to do that via email or text so that the details of the agreement reached are clear and set down in writing.
Where a Court Order is not being adhered to without the agreement of both parents the Family Court has made it clear that when the matter comes before the court again the Court will decide whether or not the decision to breach the Order was reasonable.
The Family Court will not allow this situation to be used as an excuse to prevent a parent from seeing a child.
Is the Family Court still working?
While the restrictions on movement are in place all family hearings will be held remotely. This may be by telephone or video call. If you are currently involved in court proceedings involving children and neither party has a solicitor, the Court will set up the call for you.
If you have a solicitor, they will explain how you can join the hearing. In some cases you may not need to be present on the call if you have given clear instructions to your solicitor or barrister beforehand. However, it is important that you are available to speak to the Court or your legal representative. If you cannot be contacted before a hearing then the Court may make an Order anyway.
Can I get legal advice on child arrangements during Coronavirus even if I am self-isolating?
We are continuing to take on new cases, so if you require legal advice about child arrangements during Coronavirus then we are here to help. And it doesn’t matter if you are self isolating because we are fully geared up to working remotely. Our lawyers who are working from home can still be contacted on their usual telephone number or via email as normal.
If you are eligible for Legal Aid, we can also make an application for Legal Aid on your behalf during this period, so the service we provide is unaffected.
If you need advice on child access or child arrangements during Coronavirus please call us on 0808 139 1606 or email us at [email protected]