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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangements Orders

30/03/2020

The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice has released the following guidance on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangements Orders [‘CAOs’] in light of the Coronavirus crisis.

The expectation is that parents will care for their children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their children and deciding where and with whom their children spend time with. Parents must abide by the general ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ [‘the Stay at Home Rules’] issued by the government on 23 March 2020.

Prioritising child welfare

Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a CAO rests, in a significant majority of family circumstances, with the child’s parents and not with the court. The best way to deal with these current unprecedented and difficult times is for parents to work together for the common purpose of prioritising the children’s welfare – particularly their safety and emotional and educational wellbeing. This can be best achieved by effective communication with one another about their concerns and so as to ensure decision-making by parents for their children is based upon fully considered and sensible planning. At a time when the need for parents to proactively co-parent is at its highest, the need to minimise, if not eradicate, conflict and the potential marginalisation of one person’s parental responsibility is equally important.

Specific guidance dealing with child contact arrangements, whether under a Court order or not, states:

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

The decision whether a child is to move between their two homes is for the child’s parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances including the child’s present health, the health of those people living in each home, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.

Temporary variation

Where parents, acting in agreement, exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied, they are free to do so. It would be sensible for each parent to record such an agreement in a note, email or text message.

Where parents do not agree to a variation, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with a CAO would be against current Public Health England advice, that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one they consider safer. This decision-making must, however, be driven after consultation between parents. Once social isolation and distancing is no longer required and, if a dispute remains between the parents, the Family Court is likely to consider whether each parent acted responsibly and sensibly in view of the official advice and Rules in place at the time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family in order to resolve this.

Alternative arrangements

Where, as a result of variation, a child is not able to spend time with one parent, the Court will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact via FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other video connection, or by telephone if that is not possible. Maintaining a sense of normality and the presence of both parents for children is essential even if the ‘usual’ arrangements, whether through a CAO or otherwise, cannot genuinely be maintained.

*The information set out in this article is correct at the date of publication (30 March, 2020). The impact of coronavirus on the law is a fast-changing area and so it is important to obtain legal advice to ensure you are p roperly protected. Find out more about compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders.

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If you have any questions regarding the impact of the Coronavirus upon your personal or family matters or are seeking up-to-date legal advice, contact Jessica Wade on 01202 294 566 or email jessicawade@steeleraymond.co.uk.

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