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Compliance with Child Arrangement Orders During The Coronavirus Crisis


Posted on 27 Mar 2020

Over the course of the last week our family law solicitors have received several calls from clients on how to approach child arrangements during lockdown. These are unprecedented times and the public health crisis across the globe is a serious concern for the majority of us. However, for separated parents and indeed a child who spends his or her time between two households, this is even more of a worrying time.

When the Prime Minister announced the ‘Stay at Home Rules’ on 23rd March 2020, it was expected that everyone would abide by these rules. The rules are very clear and that you should only leave your house for one of four reasons:

  1. Shopping for basic necessities as infrequent as possible
  2. One form of exercise a day, alone or with members of your household
  3. Any medical needs or to provide assistance to a vulnerable person
  4. Travelling to and from work but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Immediately this raised panic and further questions for many separated parents; especially when Michael Gove MP during an interview on 24th March on Good Morning Britain said that children should not be moved between households. The government has since clarified the position and further guidance has been issued alongside the ‘Stay at Home Rules’.  This additional guidance states that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. The actual decision to move a child between households is for the parents themselves taking into account the child’s health, health of the household, risk of infection and presence of any recognised vulnerable individual in the household. It is expected that parents will exercise their parental responsibility sensibly and safely.

The guidance from the government is clear in that it is permissible for those under the age of 18 to move between separated parents. This does not however mean that children must be moved between homes. This decision should be made by the child’s parents after a sensible assessment of the circumstances.

The best way to approach these difficult times will be for the parents to communicate with one another about their worries. Where parents are in agreement the arrangements in any child arrangement order shall be temporarily varied. Our solicitors would advise that it would be sensible for each parent to record such an agreement in a note, e-mail or text message sent to each other. If parents however cannot agree as to how child arrangements should be varied, then the matter could come before the Family Court. This should be a last resort.  The Court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice from Public Health England and Public Health Wales, the Stay at Home Rules, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.

The key message from the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice is that where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child. Practically this would mean that other forms of contact between a child and his/her parent should be explored such as Facetime, WhatsApp, Face Time, Skype or Zoom or if this is not possible by telephone.

Swayne Johnson Solicitors offices are currently closed to the public and we are not offering a face to face services at our offices, however our Family Solicitors are still able to offer you advice on managing child arrangements during this lockdown.  Appointments can be carried out on the phone, e-mail and through video conferencing.

For more advice on Child Arrangement Order or any other Family Matter, please contact Sara Lloyd Evans  by email: sarae@swaynejohnson.com or via our contact form https://www.swaynejohnson.com/contact-us/

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