How has COVID-19 impacted upon Child Arrangements during lockdown8th June 2020 2:03 pm Comments Off on How has COVID-19 impacted upon Child Arrangements during lockdown
Covid-19 has posed some very different and difficult issues for us all particularly those who are parents co-habiting after separation. The common issue, being where one party refuses the other party to have contact with the children during lockdown.
Where there is an ongoing child arrangements order (Court order) for contact, the arrangements set out in the order should try to be maintained where possible, as the arrangements agreed and approved by the Court are likely to be in the best interests of the child.
The government guidance surrounding COVID-19 include provision for parents who do not live in the same household, to move children between their respective parents’ homes. This means that any arrangements currently in place for the children can remain in place but only on the basis that it is safe to do so.
Does the government guidance override an existing Child Arrangements Order?
If a Child arrangements order provides for contact to take place on certain days / times it does not necessarily mean that in the current circumstances that it is safe to adhere to those arrangements. The decision regarding whether it is safe to do so should be made by the parents’ after taking into account the health of the party’s and any other person in their respective household in light of the current health pandemic.
If children are going to be moving between homes then it would be beneficial to create a “bubble”, where for example, the other party, should have limited contact with others outside of their household. This may of course create difficulties if the other party has another partner and they too have children, making that “bubble” arrangement difficult to manage.
What if the other party breaches the terms of a Child Arrangements Order?
You should try to seek to resolve matters with the other party prior to issuing any applications under the Children Act, as the Court will want to see that you have tried to deal with matters between yourselves either in correspondence or via mediation beforehand.
What if I am in breach of a Child Arrangements order?
You may be in breach of a Child Arrangements Order, if you fail to adhere to the terms. The terms of a child arrangement order can be varied temporarily provided this is in agreement with both parties. It is advisable to record any agreement in writing. If the other party is not agreeable to contact ceasing or changing then you should seek to try to agree this with the other party or to mediate.
There may be genuine reasons why you might not want your children to stay with the other party. If you are concerned or worried about the transmission of coronavirus, this is a valid reason to refuse to allow the other party to have them, for example if there is a vulnerable or shielded family member in either of the household that you wish to protect, particularly if you are concerned that the other party is not complying with the government guidance relating to social distancing; or if the other party is a front line worker and has increased risk of being exposed to Coronavirus.
The presence of the current health pandemic should not however be used as an excuse to refuse contact for any other reason. The courts have indicated that the letter of a court order may be varied, but the spirit of the order should kept.
If you are a paying party and are finding it financially difficult to meet the agreed Child Maintenance payments you should make contact with the Child Maintenance Service as soon as you are able to.
If you are a receiving party and are not in receipt of agreed Child Maintenance payments, due to a change in the other party’s financial circumstances you should also contact the Child Maintenance Service to inform them.
If you are refused contact due to the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, then you should seek legal advice as soon as possible as there are measures in place to protect you in those circumstances. The Court’s are still operating and urgent applications for child arrangements are currently being dealt with, albeit remotely.
This article was written by Denise Bullock of Colemans Solicitors LLP. Denise is a Family Law Solicitor with over 10 years of experience. She specialises in all aspects of Family Law including private law children matters.
If you have concerns about any of the issues raised in this article, or for more information, call Denise on 01628 631051 for an initial discussion or to make an appointment.
Categorised in: Family Law
This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP