Understandably, many parents are finding the current situation challenging. On top of juggling working from home and home-schooling, separated parents have an added pressure to deal with. With the Government’s latest advice, many parents will be questioning what the ongoing arrangements for their children should be. As much as possible it’s important to maintain routine and stability for children, particularly when they are coping with the closure of schools.
Yesterday (24 March 2020), Michael Gove tweeted the following:
“While children should not normally be moving between households, (the Government) recognise that this may be necessary when children who are under 18 move between separated parents. This is permissible and has been made clear in the guidance.”
Accordingly, so far as it’s safe to do so, child arrangements should continue as normal and children should see and spend time with each parent as they would have done before the pandemic.
This situation may be different if either household is self-isolating due to one or more member of that household showing symptoms. In those circumstances, Government and Public Health England guidelines should be followed:
If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for seven days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house becomes ill.
For anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for seven days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period.
Once the necessary period of self-isolation has passed, the child arrangements should return to normal.
We appreciate that there are some circumstances where child arrangements may not be able to continue as before; for example, where the contact is usually supervised, or takes place in a public place such as a café or soft-play centre. In those circumstances, during periods of self-isolation and generally while the pandemic continues, we would advise that parents consider the following:
If you are unable to spend time with your children or you are self-isolated with your children, try to agree regular indirect contact for the children with their other parent. This can be a simple telephone call but ideally would include virtual face-to-face contact using apps such as Skype and FaceTime. This type of contact could be used to play a boardgame with the children or perhaps even help them with schoolwork. Indirect contact can also include writing and sending letters in the post.
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and try to agree what steps can be taken to protect the children, other parent and their household from exposure. Both parents should immediately be informed if any child is displaying symptoms of the virus.
Once it is safe to do so, try to provide additional time to the parent who has missed out on direct contact. We are of the view that the Court would welcome flexibility in these circumstances and parents must remain child-focused throughout.
It is likely that children will ask lots of questions about what is happening both in the wider community and with their arrangements to see their other parent. Encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and, when answering, be honest but ensure that you speak with them in a manner appropriate for their age and level of understanding. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to media coverage intended for adults.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of the above, please do contact the solicitor with day-to-day conduct of your file. We are keeping matters under constant review and will update this advice as necessary should Government policy change. We would highlight that in the event of parents being unable to reach an agreement as to how to navigate these unusual circumstances we are able to facilitate alternative dispute resolution options to provide speedy resolutions in the best interests of the children concerned.
For more information, contact Brachers Family team.