Child Arrangement Orders during Covid-19
What happens when one parent seems to be using Covid-19 as an excuse to frustrate Existing Child Arrangement Orders or Agreements?
The Covid-19 Crisis is a time of unprecedented concern and worry for many reasons. It is particularly so for separated parents who want to continue to spend time with their children and are worried that they might not be able to or are concerned that the other parent is using Covid-19 as an excuse to put a stop to contact.
The guidance issued by the Government on the 23rd March 2020 is that children under the age of 18 can continue to see both parents and move between households, as long as it can be done safely.
Further guidance has been issued by Sir Andrew Macfarlane, President of the Family Division of the Hight Court on 24th March 2020. He clarified that whilst children can be moved between parents’ homes, it does not mean all children must keep travelling for contact visits. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
Even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this. If one parent is worried that moving their child would be going against Public Health advice, they may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to one that they consider to be safe. Where this is done by agreement it would be sensible to record that agreement in an email or text message to each other. Where this is the case then Family Courts will be expecting parents to maintain contact between the parent and the child and for such contact to be facilitated by video chat or phone instead of in person. Where it is not agreed but one parent is sufficiently concerned to vary the existing Child Arrangements Order by exercising their parental responsibility, if the other parent wishes to question the other parent’s decision in the Family Court then the Family Court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably in the light of the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time together with any other evidence relating to the children or the family.