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28 Apr 2020
Family & Matrimonial
We are living in unprecedented times, having to ask for official advice and guidance on almost every aspect of our lives – from how long we can reasonably exercise outdoors to whether we’re allowed to put non-essential items in our shopping baskets when braving the supermarket.
Never before have we felt so at a loss in making seemingly minor daily decisions.
Little wonder then that so many of the separated parents among us – who are facing the additional pressure of knowing what should happen to child contact arrangements during the lockdown – are struggling to know what to do for the best.
Many people’s instinct may be to keep their children safe at home with them, not wanting to expose them to any risk of infection. However, is it really in the child’s interest to keep them away from the other parent for a prolonged period of time?
The advice at the start of the lockdown was confusing, with those families with separated parents seemingly overlooked when planning the rules on how lockdown should work. The government very quickly then issued specific guidelines on child contact arrangements to clarify what was permitted, giving an exception to the stay at home rule for children of separated families.
While this clarification was helpful for parents, the guidance was, understandably, very generic and it is clear that many families need more specific advice relating to their own individual circumstances. So, with this in mind, our Head of Family & Matrimonial Law, Kate Thomas, has compiled the following advice for parents who are unsure as to what they can and cannot do while the country remains on lockdown.
Clearly, every case is different so if you are worried, there really is no substitute for getting specific advice for your own individual circumstances from a specialist family lawyer. However, I hope these general pointers will be useful.
When the Government issued the ‘Rules on Staying At Home and Away from Others’, which do not permit anyone to leave their homes for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work, they gave specific guidance on contact arrangements for children of separated families. “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
While the government guidelines allow for children to be moved between both parents’ homes, you are not obliged to do this, come what may. As parents, you should try to agree what is best for your child bearing in mind their present health, the risk of infection and whether or not any people living in either house has been identified as being a vulnerable individual.
It’s important to remember that during the lockdown, any Child Arrangements Order should be complied with and any informal arrangements should continue, unless doing so would put your child or others at risk. Both parents can exercise their parental responsibility and if necessary, agree to temporarily vary the Child Arrangements Order. Consider recording any such agreement in writing to avoid any future disputes.
If you have tried to reach an agreement on the safest way forward but are getting nowhere, you should take specialist legal advice. Hearings are currently being dealt by via video calls so it is still possible to seek the Court’s assistance if necessary If a court examines your actions after the event, it is likely that they will check whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice that was in place at the time, together with the specific factors in the case. Their priority will always be to promote the best interests of the child.
If it is not possible for your child to spend time with their other parent while the lockdown continues, you should do all you can to ensure they can maintain regular indirect contact with them, either by phone or video calls. Also think about how this time can be made up when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Maybe the other parent could have additional overnight stays or more holiday contact to make up for the lost time together?
We’ll be back tomorrow with more advice on what to do if you’re separated and are struggling to sort out the best arrangements for your children during lockdown.
Harding Evans is one of Wales’ top 10 law firms and has a specialist team of matrimonial and family lawyers. If you would like to speak to one of the team, please give us a call on 01633 760678. Although our offices are currently closed, we are still operating very effectively and can answer any queries you may have, quickly and in confidence.