Child Arrangements during Covid-19 Lockdown
24 March 2020 by Lisa O'Boyle
We are at the start of unprecedented times for the UK and there is no certainty as to when things will return to normal. With Boris Johnson’s announcement late on 23rd March, the UK wakes up this morning subject to increased restrictive measures which we must all follow.
These rules tell people that they must stay at home and should only leave the house for one of four reasons. More details can be found on the government website https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others.
These new rules have caused some confusion for separated families. Within this article, we seek to answer some of your common questions.
Should child contact arrangement regarding my children go ahead?
The government guidance online states “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. This falls under the reason to leave the house for “Any medical need or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person”. Michael Gove confirmed on BBC Breakfast News this morning that children can be moved between households for contact between their parents where their parents have separated, if they are under 18.
Some families will have informal arrangements in place and other families will have child arrangement orders (previously known as a contact order) in force.
Contact should go ahead in accordance with the Child Arrangements Orders, or agreements between parents, unless anyone has symptoms of the Coronavirus and is self-isolating as a result. The person with the symptoms has to self-isolate for 7 days and anyone who lives in the same household should self- isolate for 14 days from when the person with symptoms first became ill. During self-isolation, it may be that direct contact cannot go ahead. In that case, parents should ensure that they have evidence of the symptoms e.g. a medical letter/email, or some record of the advice given by a medical professional to isolate, or evidence from the NHS online symptom checker. It is also important to ensure that there is regular video and/or telephone contact by the child with the other parent during the period of self-isolation.
If the Child Arrangements Order is not complied with, proceedings could be brought by the parent who cannot see the child for contempt of court which is punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment, a fine, and/or made to do unpaid work. Punishment will be imposed if the Order has not been complied with unless there is good reason, which is why it is important to have evidence of ill health and/or self-isolation.
A parent who doesn’t comply with the order could also be criticised in court proceedings for not promoting the child’s relationship with the other parent. If findings are made in this regard, the Court has the power to change the child’s residence to the other parent or, if also unsafe with the other parent, to place the child into foster care.
These are challenging times for everyone. Child arrangements on separation can be tough and can be acrimonious but now is the time more than ever to try to work together and effectively communicate.
Can my children continue to attend school?
If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
However, schools, and all childcare providers, are to continue to provide care for:
- children who are vulnerable, and
- children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home.
Parents should discuss arrangements with the school and social services as flexible arrangements may be organised.
Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Parents who are critical to the Covid-19 response are those working in health and social care; education and childcare; key public services; local and national government; food and other necessary goods; public safety and national security; transport; utilities, communication and financial services.
Parents should not rely for childcare on grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings continue to care for children wherever possible.
Home-schooling can be daunting but schools are providing resources to assist parents. During these unprecedented times parents, together or separated, should work together to ensure they act in the best interest of their children.
More information see the government guidance can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision
Will my hearing go ahead?
The courts have issued guidance that all hearings are to take place remotely unless in exceptional circumstances. Remote hearings may take place by telephone or by using Skype for Business, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, for example.
If you are the Applicant and are represented or if the Applicant is unrepresented and you are a represented Respondent, your solicitor should organise this. If neither party has legal representation, then the Court will organise this.
Where possible, parties are encouraged to come to agreements before the hearing and agree an order so that, if possible, the hearing is no longer necessary and can be cancelled.
It is also understood that the Court is likely to postpone a number of hearings that are less urgent.
Local Courts are expected to provide more guidance on this point.
Of course, the rules that we must following during this pandemic are constantly changing and the government websites and advice should be checked regularly. If you would like advice about the contact arrangements for your children, please contact our Family Team at 01206 700113 or email [email protected].
See the update to this blog here- https://www.fjg.co.uk/blog/2020/03/26/child-arrangements-during-covid-19-lockdown-update
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