Updated on 30/03/2020
With schools closed and government restrictions requiring most people to stay at home, the coronavirus crisis is affecting many people who need to look after children.
For separated parents, the coronavirus crisis can bring additional challenges. You might both think differently about what to do to make sure you and your child stay safe. You also might disagree on how to keep your relationship with your child as normal as possible.
We’ve put together some tips to help you through the COVID-19 outbreak.
Maintain normality where possible
Any Child Arrangements Order (CAO) or agreement with the other parent about arrangements for your child should continue, unless there’s good reason for it not to.
It will generally be in a child’s interests to maintain some routine, and for them to continue seeing both parents. This means separated parents will be allowed to move their children between two homes, despite the government’s rules requiring people to stay at home.
Do we have to stick exactly to a court order?
For practical reasons, you may need to agree some changes to arrangements, such as when and where pick-ups and drop-offs take place.
A CAO should be complied with, unless doing so puts your child or others at risk. But during this period, it’s fine for parents to make changes to the arrangements without an additional court order. It’s a good idea to put any changes in writing so everyone’s clear about what’s agreed.
What if there are medical reasons that my child shouldn’t travel?
If there are medical or self-isolation reasons, or if the government restricts our movements even more , your normal arrangements might have to change.
If you or your child is ill and you need to stay at home, you should communicate clearly and honestly with the other parent. If communicating is difficult or unsafe, and the people who normally help you talk to your partner aren’t available, we can help with direct communication.
Whether or not a child should move between their parents’ homes is a decision for both parents to make after assessing all circumstances, including:
- The current health of the child
- The current health of those in either household
- The risk of infection
- If there are any vulnerable individuals in either household.
If you don’t think your child should move between households, think how they can stay in touch with the other parent and family members. Use video calling tools like Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.
If your child was spending weekends or longer periods with a parent, it might make sense for contact to happen more frequently for shorter periods.
What if we can’t agree?
You should consult your solicitor – taking action by yourself isn’t advisable. If you think your regular arrangement goes against government advice, you may be advised to change it to a safer arrangement. You should always communicate your reasons to the other parent if you do this.
If the decision to change your regular arrangement is later questioned in the Family Court, the court will look at:
- If each parent acted reasonably and sensibly
- If the decision was made to help follow official advice
- Other relevant circumstances like if your child was too ill to travel.
- How you communicated and supported other ways of maintaining contact.
If you need an urgent application to the court, for example if you feel the actions of the other parent are putting the child at risk, we can help. Call us today on 0370 500 100.
There are likely to be delays going through the courts, particularly if your situation isn’t urgent. The court has adjourned some scheduled court hearings, and where possible, some hearings are taking place over video or telephone.
Urgent hearings will almost certainly be dealt with remotely. It’s important that your child isn’t exposed to any court hearing you’re taking part in from home.
Mediation and arbitration could help resolve an ongoing dispute about arrangements for a child, and both can be conducted remotely.
If you can, try to agree what you’ll tell your child about practising hygiene and the wider pandemic, especially if they’re anxious or upset.
Take extra care that they don’t overhear discussions between you and the other parent, or conversations you have about the other parent, for example with your solicitor.
If you need help, contact our family law team on 0370 1500 100 or fill out our online form and we’ll call you back.
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