Child contact during Covid-19: the rules explained
The government has clarified the rules regulating child contact during Covid-19. The rules have previously been criticised for being tricky to understand and sometimes confusing for parents.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that during lockdowns and tiered restrictions, children are able to move from one household to another for contact purposes or in order to live with another parent.
Although it has been made clear that child contact should continue as normal it must still be carried out in a ‘Covid safe’ way. This means that travel to and from contact should be carried out safely and preferably without any stops from door to door. This is not only to protect family members, but also to protect the general public. In cases where the use of public transport is absolutely necessary all social distancing measures must continue to be observed. This means that masks must be worn with the only exception being children under eleven and the two-metre rule must continue to be followed where possible.
The only circumstances in which the rules surrounding child contact can be overridden are where it is necessary for a child to self-isolate. This can occur in situations where the child is showing symptoms, is exposed to the Covid-19 virus, is joining a household where isolation is taking place or if the child is quarantined as a result of a holiday. If any of these reasons apply, then the scheduled child contact will be disrupted and may not continue as normal.
Although parents are expected to work together and come to an arrangement that fits in with the realities of the ‘new normal’, health issues and changes to work arrangements may impact contact and some parents may not be able to agree on child contact arrangements.
In cases where parents cannot come to a suitable agreement the courts should not be the first port of call. There is guidance on when a court may order that contact ‘can’ continue, rather than when contact ‘must’ continue. This gives a clear message to parents that all sensible alternatives to normal contact arrangements should be considered before contact is ceased.
At a time when court resources are under significant pressure, judges have expressed frustration about the nature of some of the domestic disputes arising in circumstances where other avenues for solution could be explored. In situations where no direct child contact arrangement can be agreed there are other options available to parents. For example, video contact could be offered and, where possible, lost time between parents and children that has occurred because of Covid-19 should be made up. In many cases the use of mediation services can be constructive and may be available through virtual platforms.
If you are struggling to navigate the rules of child contact during Covid-19, the family team at Slee Blackwell will be more than happy to help you.