Covid-19 and its effect on child contact arrangements
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a very challenging and concerning time for families. Aside from lockdowns and a change in the way we live and work, there have been various regulations put in place when it comes to moving between households.
As a result of these rules, parents and carers have had to make amendments to contact arrangements between them and their children. This has been, and continues to be, particularly difficult if there is a Child Arrangements Order in place.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order regulates who a child should live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with. However, with the ever-changing rules and restrictions, parents may wonder what this means for them and their child.
So how does Coronavirus impact a parent’s contact with their child?
Contact can either be arranged informally between the child’s parents or formally by way of a Court Order. Either way, the most important thing to consider is the child’s welfare and whether it is in their best interests.
During a parent’s contact time with their child, they are able to decide where to take them and how their time will be spent so long as it is reasonable and complies with the Government’s latest guidance.
Alongside the ‘Stay at Home’ rules published in March 2020, the Government also released guidance relating specifically to child arrangements. This stated that where parents do not live in the same household, children under the age of 18 can move between their parents’ homes if it is safe to do so.
The Government has also agreed that the courts can make some temporary changes to their usual processes to help families get the support they need. For example, for Child Arrangements Order applications that the court decides have been made specifically due to Covid-19 restrictions, a Family Court Adviser will work with families to agree on a suitable arrangement. However, this may vary depending on the court and region, as judges will decide what is best for families in their area.
Now that restrictions are gradually being lifted, the Government’s advice is that children should maintain their usual routine of spending time with each of their parents, unless there are justified medical or self-isolation issues.
How does self-isolation affect childcare arrangements?
A person may have to self-isolate if they have been abroad (unless the country is exempt), have been tested positive for Covid-19, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. While guidance confirmed that children are allowed to move between households, this does not apply to a child who is self-isolating, and so the arranged contact should be postponed.
It is important to note, however, that a parent cannot deliberately use coronavirus or self-isolation as a way of restricting their child’s contact time with the other parent, where it would be reasonable for the child to otherwise have contact with them. Preventing the other parent from having their court-ordered contact would still constitute a breach of the Court Order.
If a child is unexpectedly required to self-isolate with a parent which is during the other parent’s contact time, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent. There are alternative ways of contact which can take place indirectly during this time, such as telephone calls, FaceTime, and/or text messages.
Child contact agreements between the parties
Due to these unprecedented times, negotiation between parties may be necessary to agree to amendments to child contact arrangements. Parents should clearly communicate with each other and keep a note of any amendments.
If both parents are in agreement, the Court Order can be altered temporarily. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that the original Order is no longer valid.
If arrangements cannot be agreed and a Court Order has been breached, it is advised to obtain legal advice.
Get in touch with our specialist child contact solicitors
If you require any assistance or advice about child contact or any other family law related matter, our specialist child law solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire can help. To get in touch, call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form. Alternatively, you can make a start online.