It is understandable that during these uncertain times created by the COVID-19 pandemic, that parents have been worried about complying with any Child Arrangements Order in place, which states when their child(ren) should spend time with their other parent.
During the course of the last week, the Governments Stay at Home Rules provided guidance stating that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between parent’s homes’, thus creating the expectation that any Child Arrangements Order in place should still be complied with and further adding to the worry of parents who do not want to breach any Order of the Court, but do not think that it is safe for their children to have contact.
However, since the release of the Stay at Home Rules, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, has provided further guidance, to assist the Family Courts, Family Law Solicitors/Barristers and their clients.
The President’s guidance is clear that although the Government have confirmed that children under the age of 18 can be moved between parents households, they do not have to be. The decision to stop face to face (direct) contact between one parent and their child(ren) should be a sensible one and should be based on factors including the health of the child(ren), risk of infections and whether there are vulnerable people living in one of the households. This is case specific and the stopping of direct contact during this time, is dependent on your situation only.
The President is clear that if direct contact is stopped (for a reasonable reason as discussed above), contact should still be facilitated indirectly through FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, telephone, etc and this would be expected by the Family Court.
During this difficult and unprecedented time, it is hoped that parents can have effective discussions regarding the stopping of direct contact and come to agreement together to vary the Child Arrangements Order until this time has passed.
If one parent does not agree to the vary the Order, but due to the circumstances, the other parent thinks that direct contact should be stopped, because it is not safe for the children otherwise (taking into account the above factors), the parent with concerns can exercise Parental Responsibility and stop contact (again indirect contact should still take place, if possible). If the matter comes before the Court, the Family Court will look to whether parties have acted reasonably, based on their situation.
Please note however that this cannot be used as an opportunity to stop contact between a parent and their child(ren) if there is no reason to do so. Parents are expected to act in the best interests of their child and to stop contact when it is not reasonable to do so is unlikely to be in their best interests.
If you have any questions or would like further advice, please contact us on 01274 861096 (Liversedge office) or 01423 637272 (Harrogate office) or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a free half an hour telephone consultation.