Our family department have seen an influx of requests for advice and representation in connection with the breakdown of contact arrangements during the Coronavirus pandemic. Many people require advice upon how they can safely meet the requirement of the lockdown order.
Government guidance states that people should leave home for very limited purposes only which are:-
- Shopping for basic necessities (e.g. food and medicine) as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day
- Any medical need
- Travelling for work purposes where you cannot work from home
The guidance clearly states that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes to continue existing arrangements for contact.
The child lives with me. Do I have to let the other parent see him/her during this crisis?
Even where a child arrangement order is in place parental responsibility still rests with the child’s parents and decisions should be made by them.
Where there is a concern for a child’s safety or welfare during this crisis parents should discuss and temporarily vary any contact arrangement. It is sensible to confirm that in a written form (e.g. by email or text).
If agreement cannot be reached and one parent is concerned that complying with the CAO would be against public health advice or put the child in danger then that parent exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to the extent that they consider it to be safe.
However, if court proceedings should be issued and that parents’ conduct is later challenged the court is likely to look at whether they acted reasonably in the light of guidance. In other words, failing, unreasonably, to comply with the CAO could backfire at a later stage.
If, for whatever reason it is appropriate to vary contact arrangements then creative solutions should be considered.
Alternatives to direct contact include:-
- Video contact on Skype, Facetime, Zoom or similar.
- Parents of older children could arrange a “watch party” where people gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and reacting in real time.
- Children may enjoy making and sharing videos with the non-resident parent.
- If video contact is not possible then contact should be maintained over the telephone.
Do not forget that receiving a letter or card through the post is an enjoyable experience. Parents might want to send a card to children to say they are thinking about them and children may take pleasure in sending drawings, photographs or such like to the other parent through the post.
As in all child related cases an application to court should be the last resort particularly in circumstances like this when the restrictions are likely to be varied in the forthcoming weeks/months.
If you require any advice please contact Gareth Reynolds at the Cheddar office. Telephone – 01934 745400 or at Gareth.firstname.lastname@example.org.