Coronavirus and child contact arrangements
Over the past few weeks, we have been receiving calls from parents seeking advice about contact arrangements in the current pandemic. We understand that parents are concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of a court order, or previously agreed arrangements.
On 23rd March, the government published ‘Rules on staying at home and away from others’. The general position is that it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
However, the government established an exception to these rules which deals with child contact arrangements. This made it clear that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. This does not mean that children must be moved between homes. Parents need to make decisions that are safe for their children and others. If your child has any symptoms or is at risk of infection, then you should stop face-to-face contact to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, if either you or anyone living in your household is vulnerable, then you should consider alternative arrangements to maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent such as Facetime, WhatsApp video call, Skype, Zoom or other video connections.
If it is possible for the contact arrangements in the court order or agreed arrangements to continue safely, then they should do so. It is important that you communicate with the other parent to come up with a good practical solution.
Parents can agree to temporarily vary the agreed arrangements or those set out in a Child Arrangement Order. If you choose to do this, please remember to record the agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other.
These are difficult and unprecedented times; all parents or those caring for children need to try and make reasonable arrangements that are in the best interests of their children. Much will depend on the age of the child, whether the child has any health or special educational needs, the distance the parents live from each other, whether any of the parents or others in the household are vulnerable and other circumstances.
The courts are currently not working as normal. Generally, only urgent hearings are taking place by telephone.