With the United Kingdom in lockdown, we currently find ourselves in an unprecedented example of social distancing in response to COVID-19. The developments have caused, and will continue to cause, distress to families around the country.
For separated parents, the government guidance creates an added layer of stress and uncertainty. The lockdown could affect child contact arrangements you have in place. You may also be unsure how to prioritise between complying with a court-ordered Child Arrangements Order and keeping your family safe in accordance with government guidance.
The government’s most recent guidance is that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. This means that for children who share their time between their parents’ homes, co-parenting across multiple households will be allowed to continue. This does not mean that children have to be moved between households. Where informal child contact arrangements are already in place, co-parents should seek to agree between themselves as to how to deal with the current lockdown.
Communication is key
Co-parents are allowed to agree between themselves that the terms of their existing Child Arrangements Order should be temporarily varied during the lockdown period. They should speak to each other openly about their concerns and attempt to reach a solution that works for everyone involved. If one parent is not willing to vary the Child Arrangements Order, or they are suitably concerned that complying with the order would be against the public advice, they may independently vary the arrangement to one they consider to be safe. The court will be able to retrospectively consider the steps taken by the parent who acted independently to assess whether they acted in a fair and sensible way.
The best approach to take is to be sensible. You should give as much notice as possible where plans need to be changed. Try starting a productive conversation now about how you might deal with contact arrangements for the duration of the lockdown period, bearing in mind that it may be extended.
Differing methods of communication
Where face-to-face contact will not be possible, the court will expect arrangements to be made for contact to take place remotely, for instance through text message, WhatsApp, FaceTime or Skype, to name a few. OurFamilyWizard is another very useful tool, created specifically for facilitating communication between co-parents. If this is not possible, consider suggesting that the parent missing out on contact now will get additional contact time once the lockdown period has ended.
When attempting to reach agreement, try to keep the best interests of your child at the forefront of the conversation. Your child’s emotional and physical wellbeing should be put first. Wherever possible, try to reach an agreement in writing – for instance over email or via text – to keep a record of what has been agreed.
Whilst agreement will be preferable, it is of course not always possible. If a court order or informal agreement is in place and you cannot reach agreement on how to facilitate contact during this period of lockdown, it may be necessary to apply to court – whether to have an order made, or to have the terms of an existing order varied. In these circumstances we would urge you to speak to one of our team for further advice.
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