We understand that during the current crisis of pandemic, some parents whose children are the subject matter of Children Arrangements Orders which are made by the Family Court, are concerned about their ability to meet the terms of the Court Orders.
New guidance was issued by The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane which may shed some light to these concerns.
Below is the summary to this guidance. Parents are requested to note that the circumstances of each child and family will differ hence below will be in its most general form.
Parental responsibility for a child rests with the parents and not with the court.
United Kingdom us currently in the middle of health crisis, known as Covid-19. The parents are expected to continue to provide care for their children by acting sensibly and safely when taking decisions about the living arrangements for their children. These arrangements also include decisions where and with whom the children spend time with.
It is essential that the parents comply with the “Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others” issued by the government on 23 March 2020.
The Rules which are currently in place for staying at home is clear. It is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any reason other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical needs or for the purposes of attending essential work only.
Government guidance issued with the Stay at Home Rules on 23 March 2020 also deals with child contact arrangements. It states that:
“Where parents do not line in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
It can be noted that this forms an exclusion to the compulsory ‘stay at home’ condition. This, however, does not mean that children must be moved between the parents’ homes. The decision to move children is the parents’ to make and these decisions should be made after assessing the circumstances sensibly, including the child’s current health, the risk of explosion to the disease and presence of any recognized vulnerable people in one home or the other.
The best approach will be that the parents communicate with each other about their concerns, and find a solution which will be best for their child. The government understand that many people are worried about covid-19 themselves, their children and for other members of their family. Whilst some parents believe that it is safe for contact to continue take place, it may be completely reasonable for the other parent to think otherwise.
Given the current circumstances, some parents mutually agree that they temporarily terminate the arrangements set out the Court Order or vary the same temporarily. If so, they are free to do so. It would however be practical for each parent to document their agreement in a note, email or text message and send the same to each other.
On the other hand, where parents do not agree to vary the terms of the arrangements order, but one parent is sufficiently worried that complying with the Court order would be against current government advice, then that concerned parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are challenged by the other one in the Family Court, the court is likely to consider whether each parent acted reasonably and rationally in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
If a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the arrangements order by the Court, the courts will expect different arrangements to be made to establish and preserve regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules. This can also be remotely – for instance by way of Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Connaught Law and authors accept no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Connaught Law. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Connaught Law.