Irena Osborne, Ruth Hawkins and Emily Boardman

How will the Corona virus affect our child arrangements?

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Updated information can be found in our update How will the Corona virus affect our child arrangements? Update Available here.

We are now all in unchartered territory with the Corona virus, and it is a very worrying time for all families and so we have set out below some guidance for separated parents who are co-parenting either by agreement or by court order.

The current government advice as of 12 March 2020 is for life to continue as normal, unless you or a child presents with a fever or a cough or cold.  In those circumstances you must self-isolate for 7 days, or if the symptoms worsen or last longer than 7 days then contact 111.

This of course may cause disruption to arrangements for your child or children, and there may need to be some flexibility between parents over the coming weeks and months.

If possible, now is the sensible time to agree a strategy together as parents, and to agree some good communication links so that if and when either a parent or a child present with symptoms, you can vary the arrangement or order in the short term. Start to think about what help and support you would give, if one parent becomes unwell, while the child is residing with them. If you have considered the issue and have a plan in place, alternative arrangements can be calmly put into action and  it will be less stressful for all concerned especially for your child.

If you have a Court Order in place, you may be worried if either parent becomes infected that you could be in breach of the Order. Our advice is that you set out the changes in writing with the reasons so that it is clear why the arrangements have had to temporarily change.

If you have ongoing Court proceedings with a court hearing coming up, you may be concerned about whether the hearing will still be going ahead. The advice at the moment is that the Courts will remain open, however this may change in the coming weeks, in which case the court may direct an adjournment or if the matter is urgent, then a telephone hearing may be appropriate. If you have any concerns about this, and we are acting for you already, then please contact your lawyer to discuss.

If you are acting in person, but are concerned, then please contact us, and one of our lawyers may be able to assist.

If we are acting for you in public law cases where your child is in foster care, we are already asking the Local Authority about their arrangements for contact between you and your child.

It seems increasingly likely that the schools are going to have to close. Again if possible try to agree a plan. If both parents work, you will need to consider if one parent has more flexibility to work from home, or consider assistance from extended family. The key, again, is good communication.

Easter holidays are only a few weeks away, and you may have agreed for one parent to travel abroad with a child. However this may now pose a risk due to the level of infection throughout Europe. If you have concerns about such a trip, but the travelling parent still wishes to proceed with the holiday, you should take urgent legal advice.

Children of all ages are aware of the pandemic, and schools are talking to the pupils and reassuring them. As with all issues, they will have questions for you. It is important to discuss the situation with the children calmly so any changes to routine won’t be a shock. If they have any specific questions or concerns, let the other parent know so they are aware of any anxieties and you can each provide reassurance.

However strained the relationship between parents, these are clearly extraordinary times, and you will need to work together to ensure the safety and welfare of the children are met.  If you are worried about an existing order, parenting agreement or holidays or any other issue surrounding child arrangements, our legal team would be happy to help.

Likewise our family mediator Ruth Hawkins is prepared to assist mediation clients in a flexible way and would consider urgent mediations by skype, if arrangements for children needed urgent reconsideration in the light of the current crisis.

The situation is changing on a daily basis, as is the advice, and we plan to update this blog on a weekly basis, or more frequently if and when required.

Updated information can be found in our update How will the Corona virus affect our child arrangements? Update Available here.

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

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