Many separated parents are having to explain the ramifications of the government’s decision to their children among facing other issues, least of all their worry about how child contact will take place. Co-parenting following separation can be difficult enough under normal circumstances, never mind when the country is facing a public health crisis such as this.
This situation is not helped by the conflicting messages which come from a variety of sources. The government initially provided very little information, made worse by Michael Gove’s statement that children of separated parents would not be able to move between the two households. Adding to that was Dr Hilary Jones speaking on Good Morning Britain. He is of the view that children should remain in the household they are currently in until the crisis is resolved.
Understandably, this has left many parents confused as to what should be done. We have therefore set out the current advice, as well as the practical implications below.
The latest advice from the Government is that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. However, this does not mean that children must be moved between homes.
This advice is very scant, possibly to encourage parents to take a sensible view themselves and work together in this difficult time. To assist, we have set out some of the practical considerations below.
Where a Child Arrangements Order is in force, parents should work together to come to a sensible arrangement as to whether the child should move between their homes. Parents are free to temporarily vary the terms of the Order by agreement to ensure that the arrangement is suitable for the current public health crisis. It is always advisable to record such agreements, whether in an email, text or note.
It should be noted that if it is not safe to move the child between homes, or Public Health England/Wales advises against it, then the child should remain where they currently are.
In the situation where one parent feels that it is safe for contact to take place as usual, it is not necessarily the case that the other parent will agree. If this occurs, the parent who does not feel contact should take place is able to exercise their Parental Responsibility to temporarily vary the Child Arrangements Order to an alternate arrangement they feel is safe.
It should be noted that if contact in the usual manner cannot take place, an alternative form of contact should be substituted. This Could be Facetime, WhatsApp video calling, Facebook video calling, Skype, Zoom or any other similar application. This will allow the child to spend quality time with the other parent when face-to-face contact is not possible.
If the other parent is not happy with this decision and attempts to challenge this though the Family Court, the President of the Family Court has indicated that Judges will assess whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in respect of any government guidance in force at that time as well as any specific evidence in relation to the child and family. It is therefore advisable to set out the reasons that you believe the usual contact is not appropriate with reference to specific guidance and any other medical or family issues.
Having said all this, at Austin Kemp we accept that the government’s advice will not assist parents in agreeing what is best for their children if there is not currently an order in place. However, during this time the Court’s will struggle to operate normally and therefore it is unlikely any issues will be resolved within the usual time-frames.
If you are experiencing difficulty in reaching an agreement, we can advise on alternate methods of resolution without going through the Court system.
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