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How Coronavirus (COVID-19) affects arrangements for children
We are all now facing unprecedented times while the UK adjusts to the guidance and restrictions given by the Government in a bid to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
We are all aware of the ‘Stay at Home’ rules which came into force on 23 March (and which will continue for a period of at least three weeks) to enforce social distancing. Put simply, we are all to stay at home and should only leave our homes for essential food shopping or for medical reasons, to travel to work where absolutely necessary, and to exercise (either walk, run or cycle) once a day.
The ‘Stay at Home’ rules will naturally cause concern for separated parents who will be carrying out the new rules whilst also attempting to adhere to any contact arrangements whether agreed between parents or set out in a Child Arrangements Order.
As family law practitioners we were all surprised when Michael Gove spoke to the nation on Good Morning earlier this week regarding child contact arrangements. However, he quickly recanted and provided clarification via Twitter, that whilst children should not be leaving their homes, except in accordance with the ‘Stay at Home’ rules, it is permissible for children to do so where parents are separated.
The judiciary has since provided further clarification that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’. Whilst this does give an exception to the ‘Stay at Home’ rules, it does not mean that children must be moved between their parents’ homes and parents should consider carefully whether there is any risk to the child or vulnerable person in allowing a child to move between homes.
Practically, in so far as is possible, where there is an agreement between parents or an Order of the Court setting out the arrangements for children to spend time with a non-resident parent, the arrangements should continue so far as it is safe to do so in consideration of the guidance and rules set by the Government.
Where it is unsafe for a child to move between houses parents are encouraged to reach an agreement between them for contact arrangements to be temporarily suspended until such time as the restrictions are lifted. In those circumstances, parents are also encouraged to agree alternative contact arrangements such as increased video and/or telephone calls between the child and the non-resident parent.
If parents agree that it is safe for to continue with the contact arrangements parents should abide by the rules regarding self-isolation where a parent or a child shows signs of one of the symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) illness. As a reminder, where symptoms are present, people are to self-isolate for a period of 7 days from when symptoms started. Where there are others living in the household, all other members of the household must self-isolate for a period of 14 days from when the first person started showing signs of symptoms. In those circumstances parents will need to act sensibly and agree to temporarily suspend the contact arrangements during that period following which the arrangements can be reinstated.
If you are concerned about how the current guidelines and restrictions are affecting arrangements in respect of the children, or you are experiencing difficulties maintaining contact with your child or are unable to reach an agreement our Family Law Team will be able to assist you.
These difficult times will also be impacting on our relationships. Should you wish to discuss matters of separation, divorce or financial settlements Kerry Rowell, Averil Ballam or myself (Laura Savage) of our Family Team can be contacted by either telephone (01603 666001) or by email.
We have put measures in place to ensure that we continue to provide our clients with our usual high quality divorce and family service. Whilst our offices are temporarily closed, the Family Team remain contactable by telephone or email and are offering meetings either via telephone or Skype or Zoom. Courts are still open and operating remotely to assist you.