Helen Bishop, Consultant Solicitor

Covid-19 Update for Child Arrangements 30.03.20

Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

We have now had our first weekend living with the stringent instructions laid upon us by the Government. The strict instructions are made with good reason, and it is imperative we all follow them carefully for the safety of ourselves and our families, and for the safety and wellbeing of our wider community.

However the instructions clearly left those with child arrangement orders or parenting agreements in place in some difficulty, especially where one household was unable to self-isolate as efficiently as the other and especially where there were court orders in place.

The Government guidance which we linked to in our blog on the 24 March 2020, stated that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents homes.”

The important part of this to note is that they “can” be moved, not “must” be moved.

The Rt Hon. Sir Andrew McFlarlane who is the president of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice in England and Wales has provided a helpful statement, the link of which is: www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/

It is clear from his statement, that there is a clear definition between “can” and “must”, and that whilst there may be a child arrangement order in place, he states “if one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against the current PHE/PHW advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one which they consider to be safe.. If after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the Court is likely to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family”.

Anxieties in every household are running high at the moment and we all want to protect our families. If you have two families who are all fit and well with no underlying health conditions and both households are self-isolating sensibly then the risk of transferring a child from one household to another would seem low.

However if one household is unable to self-isolate fully, for example, one member is having to go out to work, especially if this involves an environment where they are at risk of becoming infected, or there is someone unwell in one household, or there is a vulnerable person in a household, these would be examples where it may be sensible for one parent to consider the risk to the child or children and the household, is too great a risk.

Sensible discretion needs to be applied.

Both parents need to put aside their differences and try to work together to ensure that the correct decision is made. Of course this will mean in such circumstances where it is not safe or sensible for a child or children to move from household to household, that they will miss out on their time with the other parent. It is therefore vital that alternative provision is set up through Skype, Facetime, Zoom or any other platform to allow face to face communication.

If the children are going from household to household safely, it would be a good idea to try and avoid transferring items, and if this can’t be avoided, make sure they’re wiped clean. Keep handovers as brief as possible.

Now is not the time for scoring points or threatening court proceedings.  It is a time for both parents to act responsibly.

Remember that whilst this is a stressful time for adults, our children are also having to come to terms with massive differences in their routines, and lifestyles.  Let them talk and express their concerns. They will over the coming weeks, exhibit all sorts of heightened emotions from anger, frustration and sadness, and as parents you will need to be there for them whether face to face or through another form of technology.

At  BH&O whilst our office is now closed, we are all working remotely, and should you have any questions, issues or concerns please contact us by telephone or email and we will be happy to assist.

Helen Bishop, BH&O Consultant and Ruth Hawkins Partner.

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