The outbreak of Covid-19 has raised many concerns for separated parents. These include whether children should still spend time with both parents and in cases where there are Court Orders in place, how this works in light of the pandemic.
Following the strict ‘Stay at Home’ measures put in place on 23 March, the government has issued some guidance regarding children which states:
‘Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’
This means that parents need to take all steps, where possible, to comply with existing Court Orders. It also means that even where no Court Order is in place and where arrangements have been agreed between the parents, that children are allowed to be moved between homes.
However both parents need to ensure the safety of the child or children, and also have to consider the ‘best interests of the children’ principle.
It is widely regarded that it is in the best interests of the children to maintain a relationship with both parents, but this is not the primary focus at the moment as the health and wellbeing of children and their parents takes priority.
In such a time of unprecedented uncertainty and now more than ever, parents need to communicate with one another to make the right decisions about their children. Any symptoms on either side, or in the children, must be declared immediately and arrangements made around the health and safety of the children involved. There is the potential that arrangements will need to be modified or the Court Order may have to be varied at this time.
Any variation will need to take into consideration the safety and well-being of the children coupled with their right to maintain a relationship with both parents. Social distancing and self isolation with illness can make this awkward, but there are ways to maintain indirect contact such as Facetime and video calls as well as telephone contact.
Our Associate and Senior Family Law Solicitor, Paul Richardson, understands the challenging decisions all parents are faced with at the moment. Paul said:
‘Whilst we enter into a period of huge uncertainty it is understandable that parents are feeling anxious and also torn about protecting their children’s health, but also about being able to stick to agreements they have reached or adhering to Court Orders that are in place. Where separated parents are faced with no option but to vary arrangements and more importantly those set out in Court Orders, my advice will be to ensure that each of them records the agreed variations in writing, either by a letter, email or even a text message. This would therefore mean there is a clear record of discussions that took place, but also evidence to the Court that although the Court Orders could not be followed to the letter, that the spirit of the Order is being maintained with alternative arrangements being put in place.’
There are circumstances where there is a legal restraint on communications between the parents. If this is the case, then the sensible option is to contact a solicitor, who will advise on the next steps. The most likely outcome of this is the solicitor contacting your former partner and explaining that the circumstances are out of anyone’s control and propose interim measures where contact can be maintained.
Given the unchartered territory on a global scale due to Covid-19, it is extremely important that if required, you obtain expert legal advice.
This information has been compiled by Paul Richardson, one of our legal experts in Family Law.