A lot of confusion and distress to parents was caused by the National Media reported by the Cabinet Minister at the beginning of COVID-19. It left a lot of parents, who co-parent, worried whether they would see their children during lockdown.
The UK is now in its sixth week of lockdown, which was enforced on 23 March 2020, by the Government. For some parents, whose children are the subject of Child Arrangement Orders made by the Family Court co-parenting has increasingly become challenging.
The Government guideline states that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’. 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.
What if my ex-partner is not following the current guidelines on social distancing or lives with an essential service worker who may be more likely to transmit the virus to the children?
Communication between separated parents is “vital” right now. It is important to remember that both parents will usually share parental responsibility for any dependent child and that parents should keep each other informed in relation to the health and wellbeing of their children.
The law states parents must act in the best interests of their children. Where parents cannot agree on what these are, the court has a list of best interest factors that must be considered. These include the benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with both their parents balanced against protection from harm.
Are there other alternatives arrangements?
If children are unable to see their other parent regularly or at all, parents can make use of regular telephone call and video calls such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime to ensure both co-parents maintain regular contact with the child.
If one household in a co-parenting set-up does show covid-19 symptoms, it is important to follow the guidelines and self-isolate for 14 days – and yes, this means parents in different households both self-isolating if they want a child to move between their homes freely.
However, if an order is not adhered to without a very good reason it is possible for an enforcement application to be made to the court which could result in penalties for the non-compliant parent.
At SMQ Legal Services we are local Oxford solicitors who offer 20 minutes free advice via telephone.
We acknowledge that there will be situations where parents will not get along and further support is needed to mediate arrangements. This is especially important to recognise where there is a history of coercive control or domestic violence. It will be important that parents, and indeed children, are not forced into inappropriate arrangements at this already difficult time.
The courts are still open and will accept urgent applications with regards to childcare arrangements.
Finally, COVID-19 will not last forever it is a public health measure designed to save lives.
By Lenny Phiri