What are the 'Stay at Home Rules' for Separated Families?
We have had lots of enquires from worried parents who are separated, about how to manage contact between both parents during this unprecedented time.
Some parents have expressed concerns that they will not be able to see their children for months.
When the announcement was made last week from the Prime Minster waves of panic hit many parents. We saw a spike in telephone calls whilst the rules were left unclear.
The government has since issued clearer advice confirming the rules.
We will try to explain what we understand the current government rules and guidance to be in this helpful Q & A guide:
Q. I am separated from my partner can I see my children during Lockdown?
A. The government guidance is clear "Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes."
Q. Do the same 'Stay at Home' rules apply when considering whether to move my child between parental homes?
A.The country is in the middle of a Public Health crisis on an unprecedented scale. The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time.
Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23 March. In addition to these rules, advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of infection has been issued and updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales.
Q. Do the stay at home rules apply to children?
A. Yes. The Stay at Home Rules apply to children they are not to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work if they are considered to be a key worker under 18.
Q.Can I deny access to my childs father or mother during Lockdown?
A. If the access arrangements are on an informal basis then we would advise that you take a common sense approach in the decision as to whether it is in the childs best interest to be moved between homes. This will vary according to the personal circumstances of both families. We would suggest you make a sensible assessment of the current situation, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
Undoubtedly the best 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. It is clear that many people are very worried about Coronavirus and the health of themselves, their children and their extended family. It is not entirely unreasonable that even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place, the other parent may not.
Q. I have a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) in place. Do I have to follow the arrangements even in Lockdown?
A. Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court. The government Stay at Home Rules published on the 23rd March dealt specifically with child contact arrangements allowing children under the age of 18 to move between parental homes. It does not mean they have to be moved however. You must still apply common sense and consider what is best for the childs health and well being.
If after discussing your options with each other you exercise your parental responsibility and both agree that the arrangements of the COA will be temporarily varied you are entirely free to do so. We would advise that you make a written note of your temporary arrangement which can include an email, text sent to each other.
Q. I have a Child Arrangement Order in place can I refuse to allow the childs father or mother to see them during Lockdown?
A. Parents have a different way of interpreting what is best for their child, this is common place. We do find ourselves in very challenging times where decisions concerning a childs welfare can be extremely difficult.
Where parents do not mutually agree to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current government advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
Please be aware that if, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family..
Q. What is considered reasonable access for a parent who cannot see their child during lockdown if they are subject to a Child Arrangement Order?
A. Where, either as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the CAO, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
Q. Can I vary the Child Arrangement Order during the Coronavirus Lockdown?
A. In short 'Yes' as long as you have followed the guidelines above.
The key message from the Family Courts is that, 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.
The statement as published by the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, the Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane states that the courts will accept that during the current Coronavirus Crisis some parents whose children are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders made by the Family Court will be understandably be concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of these court orders safely in the wholly unforeseen circumstances that now apply. They recognise that the circumstances of each child and family will differ, and would ask that you follow in the first instance the guidance as set out in Public Health England and Public Health Wales.
If you would like advice on any of the above our Child Law expert, Laura Hanford can be contacted on 01708 333711 or vie email Laura Hanford.
Laura has extensive experience in all Child Law cases in both acting for the parents and for local government. She has a fantastic rapport with clients, offering you a calm, safe pair of hands to guide you through.
What the Clients Say :
"Laura Hanford assisted me with a delicate, and, at times, emotive matter. I felt confident that she completely understood the circumstances and her knowledge and expertise of the subject meant she provided superb support, advice and opinion at all times. I would highly recommend her services.David Taylor
Further guidance can be obtained on: