A child’s health and wellbeing is undoubtedly the paramount concern for any parent during these unprecedented times. One key dilemma faced by many parents with a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) in place is how to comply with the provisions without risking their child’s or their own safety and what happens if the terms of the Order are not being followed.
Please see our Q&As below
Can my child visit me even though there is a lockdown?
In their guidance released on 23 March 2020 the Government confirmed that the current lockdown does not necessarily prevent moving a child from one parent’s household to the other. Therefore, direct contact can and should continue in accordance with any CAO provided, of course, that neither parent, the children or anyone living in the household have symptoms or are self-isolating.
What should I do if I agree that the CAO should be changed temporarily?
If both parents agree that complying with the CAO is currently not safe, they should discuss and agree alternative arrangements to enable contact to temporarily take place indirectly via facilities such as video calling, Skype, Whats App, Face Time or Zoom. It is advisable to ensure that any such agreement is recorded in writing for clarity and to avoid any later dispute.
What if one parent will not agree to comply with the terms of the order?
One parent may believe that it is safe for contact to continue but the other may not. Here, there should be 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. Ultimately, it will be a decision for the parents to make but they should communicate with each other about their concerns and what they think might be a good practical solution.
If the parents cannot jointly agree to temporarily change the terms of the existing order, for example, if one parent feels that contact continuing will be against the current Public Health England guidelines, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility to change the terms of the order but the Court will, once the current restrictions have been lifted, assess whether that parent acted reasonably if the other believes that they did not.
If I cannot see my children what are my alternatives?
The Family Court has emphasised that where direct contact cannot continue they will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules such as via remote facilities as described above and, if that is not possible, then by telephone. The fundamental objective of any CAO should not be affected in such circumstances, only its implementation.
The guidance reminds parents that they have responsibility for their children and not the Court.
What can you do if the other parent is using Covid 19 as an excuse to prevent or hinder contact?
One parent may feel that the other is using the current pandemic as an excuse to hinder contact. The Courts recognise these concerns as genuine and if you believe that this is happening, you have the option of raising this at your next hearing or immediately applying to enforce the order. The Court will consider whether the other parent acted sensibly and reasonably in light of the Government guidance and the evidence specific to your family.
Lockdown does not mean Lockout
Our specialist Family Team at Vyman Solicitors understand that it is very important for parents to maintain and build their relationships with their children particularly in these stressful times. Understandably, parents will wish to avoid alienation due to the current pandemic.
We are happy to discuss any concerns that you may have about existing contact arrangements and provide guidance on what steps you should take to ensure that this continues without interruption.
We can also assist in organising alternative contact arrangements or with drafting agreements temporarily varying the terms of an order.
We are here to guide you so you can try to ensure that even in these exceptional circumstances your relationship with your children is not compromised.
A lockdown does not have to mean being locked out of your children’s lives.