On 4 January 2021, the government announced that another national lockdown was necessary to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic, with people only being allowed to leave their homes for limited purposes and where absolutely necessary to include the closure of all primary and secondary schools. This has complicated childcare arrangements for many families, particularly those who are separated.

During the first lockdown in March 2020, the government clarified the position concerning lockdown childcare arrangements from separated parents.  Essentially, the position then was that children under 18 could move between their parents’ homes for the purposes of spending time/living with each parent.  Therefore any journey between the two homes was regarded as legitimate.

The position is very much the same given the current situation and the guidelines from the government.  At Blanchards Law we have assisted many parents where they have been unsure of their rights or what is in the best interests of the children in these uncertain times. If there is a voluntary arrangement or a child arrangement order in place concerning arrangements for the children, that should be adhered to unless to do so would put the child involved or others at risk.

What is unclear during the later Lockdowns is whether children should travel between parents when they or their parents are self-isolating.

We have had many breaches of court order cases during the pandemic. This is where a parent has disobeyed  a court order by not making he children available for contact, and the other parent has applied to court to enforce the order. These are normally brought as emergency matters, and heard within a week or two by the court. According to the law, you can only avoid complying with such an order if you have ‘reasonable excuse’. In practice this is quite difficult to prove, and our experience during the lockdown is that judges will enforce orders.

Adopting the status quo will help maintain stability so far as possible and structure in your children’s lives. There are, however, some circumstances, when a child’s time with one parent may be disrupted, for example:

  • If the child’s time with one of the parents has to be supervised formally and the establishment to provide such supervision is closed, or oversubscribed,
  • Where the time that a child is to spend with one of their parents is in the community, supported by a third party, outside of the household.
  • There are good reasons; such as for serious medical issues/self-isolation, for keeping your child in one household for a period of time.

On 24 March 2020, the most senior family judge in the UK set out further guidelines and wrote that children of separated parents CAN travel between two homes, however, he said:

“it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between the 2 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 is the prevailing and current guidance, and parents who hold parental responsibility for their children must make safe and sensible decisions in deciding where and when a child should spend time during this crisis.  That includes making careful and considered judgments over movements during self-isolation periods.

If you are unable to maintain your child’s normal childcare arrangements with their other parent during the current coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, then it important to seek to maintain as much of a routine as possible.

If you do feel that you have a ‘reasonable excuse’, at the very least you should offer daily access to the children in other ways, such as by video or telephone. Many parents and children are now accustomed to virtual platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, Skype etc.  We have found that in some cases, parents have even been able to enjoy interacting by playing digital games on different media platforms such as on the computer or through gaming consoles.

It is also important to consider how any missed time may be made up after restrictions are lifted, and it may help alleviate tension if you are able to think ahead and put a plan together with the other parent.

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Discover more about Child Arrangements

Have you got any concerns about childcare arrangements during lockdown? If you or your children live in the UK,  and are interested in how a child arrangements order could help to safeguard your relationship, please pick up the phone and call us on 0845 658 6639 or email us on info@blanchardslaw.co.uk for an early response.

For your convenience, we will always aim to offer telephone calls and meetings at a time to suit you.

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