Child arrangements during coronavirus – how do you maintain contact while social distancing?

Howes Percival LLP

31st March 2020

Laura Clay-Harris explores the issues faced by separated parents during the Coronavirus pandemic and in light of the government guidance to cut down on all non-essential travel and social contact.

The court’s approach is clear; aside from in exceptional circumstances, children benefit from having a relationship with both parents. Most separated parents will have a routine to enable children to be with both parents to different degrees. This can either be through agreement, or a court order.

However, we are currently being advised by the government not to undertake any non-essential travel, and to work and stay at home where possible. At the time of writing, pubs, cafes and restaurants have not been ordered to close but the government advice is to avoid these where possible.

 

HOW DOES THIS FIT IN WITH CHILD ARRANGEMENTS FOR SEPARATED PARENTS?

If you do not have an Order, and the arrangements are currently by agreement, then you should first attempt to discuss the current situation with the other parent. Whether you contact is stopped or not is likely to depend on the following factors:

 

  1. Distance If the other parent lives far away, and continuing child arrangements will mean a significant journey, either by car or public transport, the government advice is to not undertake these journeys at this time. However, if the other parent lives in the next street or village, you may consider this level of travel is safe and ensure contact continues.
  2. Vulnerability of children and parents If any party (parents, children or anyone in the same household) is in a vulnerable group due to their age, pregnancy or health issues, more stringent social distancing measures should be taken in accordance with the government advice (which can be found here). This may mean temporarily stopping contact to prevent the movement from household to household, which would potentially increase risk.

 

If you do have a Child Arrangements Order, and consider it necessary that contact is suspended until the situation changes, you should notify the other parent as soon as possible. If they agree, ask for this agreement in writing. If they do not agree, they will be able to enforce the order. At this point it is unclear what the court’s approach will be concerning enforcing orders. It is likely the court will take a practical approach when considering whether contact should have taken place, considering the government guidance at the time, the distance, and whether anyone in the household is vulnerable.

However, the courts are likely to take a dim view of parents using this as an opportunity to prevent contact unnecessarily. If the court later consider parents were able to continue contact at this time, they may make an Order for contact to be varied in the favour of the other parent.

In the event contact has to be cancelled at this point, or in the event of a full lockdown, we would advise you ensure children are given time to contact the other parent by call, FaceTime or skype. This may be more often than contact was usually planned, and the length of the call will generally be dictated by the age of the children and their attention span.

Please note, in the event anyone in a household shows symptoms of Coronavirus, you should follow the government advice to self-isolate which can be found here.

If you have any questions regarding child arrangements during this time, or a general family law enquiry, please contact one of our Family team here.  

The information on this site about legal matters is provided as a general guide only. Although we try to ensure that all of the information on this site is accurate and up to date, this cannot be guaranteed. The information on this site should not be relied upon or construed as constituting legal advice and Howes Percival LLP disclaims liability in relation to its use. You should seek appropriate legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action.

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