Coronavirus and co-parenting – helpful advice from Family lawyers
As social distancing measures become embedded into our daily lives, what do you do if you are co-parenting and wish to maintain shared contact? Our team of specialist Children lawyers have put together this simple guide to help parents understand a little more about how they can effectively manage the situation.
Now we are in ‘lockdown’, can I take my children to spend time with their other parent?
Yes, the Government guidance which was issued on 23 March, alongside the Stay at Home Rules, states: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parent’s homes.” The starting point is therefore that you are allowed to take your child(ren) to the other parent’s home to spend time with them. However, irrespective of whether you have a Child Arrangements Order in place, this does not mean that children must be moved between households.
As parents you will need to carefully consider all of the circumstances and what will be in the child(ren)’s best interests, taking into account factors such as health, vulnerability and ultimately any risks to the children and others. If as parents you agree to change the normal arrangements, whether set out in an order or not, then this is fine. We suggest you record any change in agreement in writing, via text or email.
I can’t agree what to do with the other parent. What next?
In the absence of an agreement between you, if one parent is concerned that complying with the arrangements set out in a Child Arrangements Order is too risky and would be against Public Health England advice, then that parent may use their parental responsibility to temporarily change the arrangements to those they consider to be safe for their child(ren). Courts will be looking for parents to act sensibly and reasonably, and are likely to take a very dim view of any parent using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to frustrate contact unnecessarily.
My child has developed symptoms of COVID-19 whilst with me – should he go to the other parent for contact as normal?
No. Everyone must adhere to the Government guidelines which state that if anyone in a household has symptoms of COVID-19 they must self-isolate for 14 days.
My child has developed symptoms whilst having contact with the other parent – can I pick him up?
In most circumstances, you will be able to pick up your child. Your household will then need to comply with Government guidelines regarding self isolation. The other parent and family will also need to self isolate for 14 days. If you, or another member of your household, are a Key Worker or a vulnerable person, it may be sensible to agree that they will self isolate for 14 days with the other parent.
A third party supervises my child(ren)’s contact with the other parent – can this continue?
Contact centres and private supervision services are not operating at the moment and so support and supervision via these services will not be available. In the event that your child(ren)’s contact is supervised by a member of your own household, this supervision can continue. If a third party normally assists then we recommend you seek legal advice. Daily outside exercise is currently permitted and could be used sensibly for contact periods, if social distancing guidance is carefully followed. This will need careful consideration on a case by case basis. Unnecessary travel must be avoided. Third parties cannot have physical contact with your child(ren) and it may therefore be impossible for them to supervise. In many cases we are advising that other methods of remote contact should be used as a temporary measure.
Should I agree remote contact?
Every situation needs to be considered individually, but in cases where it’s possible and safe, we recommend you have a constructive conversation with the other parent about the best way in which your children can keep in touch with them and their extended family during this time. Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and similar apps will provide useful methods of communication in the circumstances. We suggest you think about activities that your children will enjoy during these times such as reading a story, singing or playing together. The COVID-19 guidance published by CAFCASS suggests that with older children you could consider a ‘watch party’ and gather online to watch a film and comment in real time.
A member of my household is vulnerable? Should contact still happen?
Each decision will need to involve the child(ren)’s best interests being carefully weighed against potential risks to others during the COVID-19 pandemic. If as a family you are self isolating for a 12 week period, for example, because you or your child are considered vulnerable, or if for example, you live with a Grandparent with a serious health condition, then you may need to agree a break in direct contact while the child(ren) remain with you. Alternatively, it may be appropriate to agree for your child(ren) to spend this period with the other parent. If it is necessary for direct contact to temporarily cease, you will need to consider agreeing a pattern of regular, good quality remote contact, as referred to above.
Cafcass has put together the following guidance to support children and families as the situation surrounding COVID-19 develops.
For further advice and guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of the Royds Withy King children team.
0800 923 2074 Email us
Family law solicitors who combine expertise with understanding