It can be difficult at the best of times to agree and maintain child arrangements, however we understand this can significantly increase when the government advises everyone to practice voluntary quarantine and schools close. We have put together some implications and advice in relation to the current coronavirus situation on child arrangements.
Arrangements can be informally agreed between separated parents or through a court order. The arrangements cover who a child will live with and when and the time the child spends with others.
Regardless of the details of the arrangement it is very important in these difficult times that your child’s welfare is of first and foremost consideration and this will include the child spending time with both parents regularly, where possible, as well as their extended families.
Changes to child arrangements due to coronavirus
If both co-parents are both well, there is nothing to prevent the normal arrangements continuing, albeit with added precautions. It’s always preferable, if parents can decide as to how arrangements are to continue.
You can vary by agreement of both co-parents a court order, this is useful if different arrangements are needed in a situation such as coronavirus.
The current government guidelines recommend if someone in your household presents symptoms of coronavirus, the entire household must self-isolate for 14 days. Should this be necessary, regular video chats or phone calls will be very important, to ensure both co-parents maintain contact with the child.
If the other parent becomes ill when the child is with you and you are better placed to care for your child, you can change the arrangements. Both parents need to agree and the welfare of a child will be paramount to any decision. Government guidelines should also always been adhered to.
If you have a child arrangements order which you are concerned that you cannot comply with due to isolation, or you feel an order is being breached, it is essential that you communicate with the other parent to discuss their health needs and the child arrangements over the coming weeks.
With schools to be closed from Friday 20 March the government has encouraged some to remain open with skeleton staff for key workers such as NHS staff, supermarket delivery drivers, police etc). If your former partner is a key worker and you are working at home, you may try to arrange for your child to live with you during this time, because of your concerns regarding coronavirus. It is important to get the consent of your co-parent (and anyone with parental responsibility). If you have a court order in place and cannot come to an agreement on this point, the court order will continue to have effect.
Unable to maintain arrangements due to illness
Parents should try and maintain the terms of the court order, provided you can do so safely and within government guidelines. It may become impossible due to illness to continue with arrangements. If this happens then the welfare of a child when trying to organise new arrangements is the paramount consideration. The court would also expect you to also follow government coronavirus guidelines as to what is deemed safe in terms of an individual’s movements during this period.
Different arrangements for term time and holiday time
Parents should try and agree using their own definitions of ‘school hours’ and holiday/term time. Head teachers have been advising of plans to continue to educate through social media or online classes and teachers should be asked for further information on this point. Similarly, many teachers have been offering assistance with home schooling through social media. So whilst there will still be some definition between term time and holiday time, it seems the precise timings will be largely down to each household.
A parents working hours may remain the same even when working from home, so it will be that a child’s school hours may also remain consistent. For example, sitting at the kitchen table doing remote school working during their normal school hours. Parents can replicate the pattern that was agreed by the court, even though the child is not in school.
If no agreement can be reached
Without agreement the terms of a court order will continue to have effect until such time that your ex-partner becomes physically unable to look after your child.
If urgent action is needed and court intervention required, the courts are keeping business going safely. With this in mind guidance has been issued that telephone and video conferring can take place to avoid the need to attend court in person but to ensure hearings can be effective. At Stephensons we have the facilities in place to enable this and have already undertaken and arrange a number of hearings to be conducted successfully this way. Through a combination of agile, remote working and office presence we remain operational and able to assist our clients. We can do this in many different ways and you can read about those here. You can also read our policy on covid- 19.
Extended family and elderly relatives
It may be necessary to explain to children that older relatives are unable to visit them right now, however it is vital for your children and extended family that you remain in contact.
It will be frustrating and difficult at times, as the restrictions are for many, however all constraints on your normal child arrangements will only be temporary. When government restrictions are lifted, arrangements should return to those that were in place prior to this difficult period.