The government initially published guidelines regarding Child Arrangements Orders on Monday 23rd March 2020. The initial advice was that if the parents do not live in the same household then children can be moved between their parent’s homes. The President of the Family Division has since issued further guidance to clarify that the decision as to whether a child should move between homes is a decision for the parents to make. The exception allowing children to move between homes does not mean that children must be moved between homes.
However, parents should not use the outbreak of Covid-19 to prevent children from seeing the other parent or a reason for not complying with Child Arrangement Orders. Unless there are justified medical or self-isolation issues, children should maintain their usual routine of spending time with each parent as recorded in the Child Arrangement Order. If there is a chance that complying with the contact arrangements may put your child or others at risk, then alternative arrangements for indirect contact facilitated by Skype, Facetime, Zoom or other video calling apps should be agreed between the parents. It is important to ensure that the child continues to have the appropriate level of contact with the other parent to maintain stability.
If contact handovers are usually facilitated by a contact centre that is now closed due to the pandemic, and if there is a history of domestic violence between the parents, then consider using a trusted third party who lives in the same household with either parent to assist with the handovers. If direct contact cannot be facilitated with the assistance of a third party and if the parents agree that direct contact should be suspended, the parents should discuss how indirect contact arrangements such as video calling can be put in place. It may be the case that parents are unable to reach an agreement on direct or indirect contact if the contact centre is closed. If this is the case then legal advice should be sought as soon as possible.
If you are concerned that you cannot agree contact arrangements with a co-parent and are worried that will not be able to see your child, are worried about your child moving from home to home and not being able to facilitate indirect contact during the outbreak of Covid-19 or need any advice about Child Arrangement Orders please contact us on 020 7228 0017 to speak with our specialist Family & Divorce Team who will be happy to assist.
Tash Fairweather is a Trainee Solicitor in Hanne & Co’s Family & Divorce Team