Covid-19 restrictions have made this year difficult for all of us, but things have been particularly tricky for parents who have to negotiate children’s arrangements around the ever-changing rules. We have received many enquiries from divorced parents looking for advice on the guidelines, for example: whether it’s ok to move children between homes, what to do if the other parent isn’t sticking to guidelines, and how to change previously agreed arrangements.
We posted a blog back in May to try to clarify the lockdown guidelines but it’s time for a post-lockdown update to help you navigate your children’s arrangements with the latest advice:
- Children should maintain their usual routine of spending time with each parent as much as possible, unless there are medical or self-isolation issues.
- Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes during lockdown restrictions (but this does not mean that they must do so).
- If there’s already a Child Arrangements Order in place, parents should continue to follow this unless doing so would put the child or others at risk.
- If parents are unable to maintain their usual routine or follow an existing Child Arrangements Order due to illness, inability to travel, or non-availability of external support systems/childcare, then it’s important to try to communicate and come to a new or temporary arrangement.
- Parents are allowed to temporarily change arrangements even if there is an Arrangements Order in place, so long as they are following Government guidance. However, it’s important to keep a written record of your agreements, for example via email or text.
- If it is not safe to communicate (for example, if there is a history of domestic abuse), or parents are not able to come to an agreement, an objective third party such as a mediator, family arbitrator, or solicitor can help to reach a resolution.
- If it is not possible to maintain a child’s usual routine, it’s important to support the child in staying in contact with both parents as much as possible, for example via FaceTime, video calls, and on the phone.
- Parents may also want to try to come to an agreement on how to make up any court-directed spending time arrangements that have been missed during this period.
- Arrangements should always be in the best interests of the child/ren, and conducted as safely as possible within current Coronavirus guidelines.
- If you are unable to come to a resolution or have safeguarding concerns, you will need to make an application to the court for a new or temporary arrangement order.
- If someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms, follow the current guidelines on self-isolation from Gov.uk
Continuing your normal routine can help to reassure your child and provide consistency during an uncertain time. If you disagree about how to continue your usual arrangements while following the ‘stay at home’ guidelines, the best thing to do is speak to your solicitor for advice, and/or arrange a mediation appointment to discuss a new temporary plan with the other parent.
In all cases, decisions regarding children should be made in the best interests of the child based on an assessment of the current circumstances, including: the child’s health, parents’ health, the risk of infection in your area, and the presence of vulnerable individuals in each household.
The Family Court is trying to prioritise children’s issues, and the Government has agreed that the courts can make temporary changes to their usual processes to make sure parents are able to get the support they need as quickly as possible.
For more advice on children’s arrangements, co-parenting after separation, and applying for a Child Arrangement Order, get in touch with our family law team at www.franceslindsay.co.uk.