During this difficult time with the public health crisis, parents are expected to act sensibly and safely when making decisions in regards to contact with an absent parent or family member.
We all now know the rules on “Staying at Home and Away from Others” issued by the Government on 23 March 2020.
The rules have been clear in stating that, it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
Exceptions to the Rules
There are exceptions to the “Stay at Home” rules and this assists us in considering the position where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place.
With regards to contact, the Government guidance issued alongside the “Stay at Home” rules on 23rd March 2020 provides an exception to the mandatory “Stay at Home” requirements which clearly states: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
Although this confirms the exception, it does not confirm that children must be moved between homes. The decision ultimately lies with the parents and they should consider all circumstances such as health needs of the child, the risk of any infection and the presence of any vulnerable adults in either household.
Where does this leave you if you have an Order and are not sure what to do?
- The law is clear, it is the parents who have parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order, and not the court.
- The practical way to deal with these difficult times will be for parents to communicate with one another about their worries, and what they think would be a good, practical solution taking into account any potential risks. The utmost priority should of course be the safety and well-being of the child.
- In circumstances where a Child Arrangements Order is in place, parents are free to exercise their parental responsibility to temporarily vary the same to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Again, it would be sensible for parents to communicate their thoughts and worries and make agreed note of the changes.
- In situations, where parents cannot agree to vary the arrangements set out in an Order, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the Order as it would be against current “Stay at Home” rules and government guidance advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If the matter is later taken to the Family Court, the court is likely to take a sensible approach and look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice.
- Where an Order needs to be varied, the court will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent. For example can contact take place by video call or telephone?
In essence, during these difficult times it is important for parents to try and work together and come to an agreement where possible in relation to their Orders.
Author Hemna Fargi
is a caseworker in the child care department at Duncan Lewis Solicitors based in the Luton office. She has experience in a variety of child care matters including private child care applications, divorce matters and financial relief. Hemna works under the supervision of director Natasha Khakhar
Contact Hemna on 020 7923 8523
or at HemnaF@duncanlewis.com
Contact Natasha on 020 7014 7385
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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