Update – Child Arrangements during Covid-19 Lockdown
26 March 2020 by Lisa O'Boyle
Further to our blog post on Child Arrangements during COVID-19 dated 24th March 2020, the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, issued more guidance on compliance with family court Child Arrangements Orders which can be found on the judiciary website.
Should children be moved between households?
In essence, whilst children under the age of 18 can be moved between the parent’s homes, it does not necessarily mean that children must be moved between homes. Parents should communicate about their worries and reach a practical solution. In doing so, the parents must consider their circumstances such as a child’s present health, the risk of infection, and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
Parents can agree to temporarily change the arrangements set out in the Child Arrangements Order. It is suggested that each parent record any agreement in writing e.g. a note, email, or text message sent to each other.
The president clarifies that when parents cannot agree, “but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the terms of the Child Arrangements Order would be against current Public Health England’s advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.” The court will look at “whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family”. The President has also stressed that the Court would expect alternative arrangements to be made, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
The President’s key message is that “the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”
We would suggest that it is important that any parent who wishes to temporarily exercise parental responsibility by varying the terms of Child Arrangements Order seeks independent legal advice before doing so.