Covid-19 and Child Arrangements
As we enter deeper into the second wave and the government introduces a new 3-tier system of restrictions to respond, inevitably questions have been raised about contact with children who regularly move between households due to their parents being separated.
Can children move between the homes of separated parents?
In England, local COVID alert levels of Medium, High, or Very High, are in place from 14 October 2020. At present our area remains in alert level Medium but we could move into either of the two higher alert levels at any time. Under the rules at each alert level there is an exception to the restrictions on meeting family and friends where the gathering is necessary "for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in same household as their parents or one of their parents". Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says: "Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. It does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. This guidance from the Family Division has not since been updated and therefore continues to remain in force.
If an adult is notified (other than via the NHS Covid-19 smartphone app) that their child has had close contact with somebody who has tested positive for coronavirus, the adult must "secure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the child self-isolates" for 14 days. A person subject to the self-isolation requirement must not leave their home except for a list of reasons specified in paragraph 2(3) of the regulations – e.g. where it is necessary to seek medical assistance. Visiting a parent whom a child does not usually live with is not listed as a reason why a person self-isolating may leave the house. Further information is provided in guidance published by Public Health England for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus infection who do not live with the person.
If contact has been ordered by the Court a parent may wish to take specialist advice. Although it was published before the regulations above came into force, the March 2020 guidance published by the President of the Family Division states the following regarding situations where it is not possible to adhere to court-ordered contact due to self-isolation: Where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child. If it is not possible to maintain the child’s routine due to isolation, or non-availability of, or risk to, people who ordinarily support contact, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
These are difficult times and parents are facing challenging issues for themselves and their children. Please contact us if you require legal advice regarding any family law issue on 01908 693000 or purcellsolicitors.co.uk