In light of the COVID-19 outbreak the Family Court has issued important guidance on how to comply with Child Arrangement Orders during the current lockdown.
The guidance emphasises that parents must abide by the rules on staying at home and away from others issued by the government on 23 March.
However, government directions outline an exception to the mandatory stay at home requirement where parents do not live in the same household, so that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
The court’s guidance further clarifies that does not mean that children must be moved between homes, emphasising that parental responsibility (PR) rests with parents and not with the court. Whether a child is to move between parental homes is a decision for the child’s parents to make after assessing the circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection, and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in either household.
The guidance further highlights that parents can exercise PR and agree that the terms of a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) should be temporarily varied. Any agreement should be recorded in a note, email or text message.
Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements in a CAO, but one parent is concerned that complying with the CAO would be against advice from Public Health England or Public Health Wales, that parent may exercise PR and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting unilaterally are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court will assess whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the stay at home rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
Where, due to parental agreement or otherwise, a child does not get to spend time with a parent as ordered, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to maintain regular contact between the child and their parent within the stay at home rules. For example, facilitating indirect contact by FaceTime, WhatsApp Video, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
Where COVID-19 restrictions cause an order to be varied, the spirit of the order should be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements.
For more information please contact us.