The impact of the Coronavirus Lockdown on Child Contact Arrangements

April 30, 2020 | Christopher Dolton

child arrangements coronavirusStrict lockdown measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus have been in place in the UK for six weeks at the time of writing. No-one knows exactly what will happen in the coming months, but these measures look set to remain in force, either entirely or partially, for the foreseeable future. While this is an uncertain time for everyone, for those attempting to co-parent a child with another parent they do not live with, the lockdown has presented unique and sometimes upsetting challenges.

When the lockdown was announced, parents were understandably concerned that the restrictions limiting all but essential travel would interfere with or prohibit them from seeing their child. Thankfully, the UK Government quickly provided clarity, confirming that this was not the case.

What is the Government guidance?

Government guidance currently states that children under the age of eighteen can move between their parents houses, provided that no-one in either home is self-isolating or showing symptoms of the virus. As long as all parties take sensible precautions (such as avoiding public transport) and observe social distancing rules, there is no reason why child contact arrangements cannot continue to be followed just as they were pre-lockdown.

For the latest Government guidance on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders, please visit:

https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/

I am concerned that my child is at risk – but the other parent will not agree to varying contact

With the Family Court unable to function normally during this time, the hope is that parents will be able to put aside their differences to put the needs of their children first, even when that means making potentially difficult sacrifices. Government guidance confirms parents can agree that the terms of a child arrangements order should be temporarily varied. Any agreement should be recorded in a note, email or text message.

However, it is simply not always the case that parents will be able to agree. While the UK lockdown is in place, the Family Court has issued guidance that states that, in the event that parents cannot come to a mutual decision, one parent may temporarily vary child contact arrangements in order to ensure the safety of their child. The Court clarifies that this should only be done if it is in accordance with the child’s best interests. Should the case later make its way to the Family Court, this is the criteria on which the parent will be judged to have acted reasonably or otherwise.

Practically speaking, this means that any decision a parent makes must balance the needs of their child against compliance with the current lockdown measures.

My child has developed Covid-19 symptoms – should they attend contact with the other parent as normal?

No. While the other parent may feel tempted to place contact with their child above their own health, doing so would also put those around them at risk, and potentially place extra strain on an already pressured National Health Service. If either parent or child displays symptoms of the coronavirus, they must self-isolate in line with the rules put into place by the UK Government.

While parents and children may find it difficult to remain distanced from each other for weeks or months, ultimately it is everyone’s health that must take priority during these unprecedented times.

Alternative arrangements if my child is unable to spend time with a parent

Where, due to parental agreement or otherwise, a child does not get to spend time with a parent as ordered, the Courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to maintain regular contact between the child and their parent within the stay at home rules. For example, facilitating indirect contact by FaceTime, WhatsApp Video, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.

child arrangements coronavirusHow Elite Law Solicitors can help

Christopher Dolton is a solicitor in our Family Law and Divorce team and can provide specialist legal advice in relation to child contact arrangements.

If you have any queries relating to any of the issues mentioned in this article, please get in touch with Christopher by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.

The content of this article is for general information only.  The information in this article is not legal or professional advice.

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