Child Arrangements during Lockdown
The guidance issued by the Government specifically deals with the continuation of child arrangements, whether those arrangements have been informally agreed between the parents themselves or whether they are formally recorded in an order of the court.
The guidance clearly records that where parents do not live in the same household, children who are under the age of 18 can be moved between the parents’ homes. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) has also issued guidance and made the position clear; apart from medical or self-isolation reasons, children should spend time with both parents and maintain usual routines as much as possible.
The starting point is that any child arrangements order should be complied with and any informal arrangements should continue. However, the decision as to whether children should move between their parents’ homes is one for the parents to make. The government guidelines, whilst providing an exemption to the stay at home rules for children of separated parents, do not oblige parents to stick to existing contact arrangements regardless of circumstance. Parents should consider all relevant factors, including the risk to their child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of identified vulnerable individuals in one house or the other.
Child arrangement orders
If one parent unilaterally departs from the terms of an existing child arrangements order, then the other parent can seek to enforce the arrangements; there has been no change with regards to enforceability.
However, if one, or both parents, believe that keeping to the existing arrangements would put the child or members of either household at risk, then they can consider and agree a temporary variation to the order. Such variations could include limiting the number of handovers between the respective homes and if movement between households at all is considered too much of a risk, then parents could put in place remote contact arrangements such as FaceTime, Zoom or telephone contact. There is also the option of making up time when the lockdown restrictions are eased or lifted. If one parent has missed out on holiday or overnight contact, than additional time could be provided for as long as such alterations would be in the child’s best interests.
In circumstances where parents cannot agree as to how to vary the arrangements for the children, then the court is still hearing cases to determine such issues. However, taking matters to court should only be used as a last resort.