It is no secret that arranging with your ex-partner to see your children can be difficult. Whether informally organised between the two of you or through a more formal court arrangement (eg a Child Arrangements Order), often the discussions and logistics around contact can cloud precious time with your children. Now, with the introduction of a second lockdown, even more pressure, decisions and confusion are being added to families’ living arrangements.
In a recent Prime Minister’s questions, in the midst of the localised alert tier system, a single Dad, living in a different county to his children, voiced what seems to be separated parents’ main worry: could he still see his children if they occupied different alert tiers. Now that we unfortunately head into our second lockdown, this question feels even more prevalent.
However, the current Government guidance for contact between parents and children (under the age of 18), where the children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents, has not changed since March this year. You are allowed to leave your home to access or have contact with your children. This includes moving children between households. Although it is not mandatory that children visit each parent, if it is safe to do so, it is still possible.
Where contact is set out in a Child Arrangements Order, guidance of the Family Justice System states that unless you or your children are self-isolating, you should continue to follow the directions in the Order. You are also allowed to travel to and from the contact arrangement.
Even with this guidance, it remains a confusing and worrying time, and more so than ever, a level of co-operation between parents is required for children moving between households. Potentially a parent or child may need to self-isolate, parents’ views on whether it is “safe” may differ and / or parents may not feel comfortable moving children between households. However, on the condition they are safe, it is important that children’s routines remain as consistent as possible. Throughout such uncertain times, it seems even more essential for children to benefit from some normality in their lives including spending time with each parent.
If a parent is concerned about children moving between households / maintaining contact arrangements, with the agreement of the other parent, a safe alternative to “normal” contact for the children to see the other parent should be arranged. This could be:
contact taking place outside such as visits to parks;
parents agreeing to limit the amount of people they interact with outside of their household (people can see one person outside their household for exercise), to limit the transmission risk between households as far as possible;
if one parent is living alone, forming a “support bubble” with the other parent and children; or
increasing regular FaceTime, Zoom and telephone calls with their children.
Changing children’s routines and contact arrangements due to Covid-19 is, in some instances, likely to be unavoidable. However, parents should seek to be pragmatic. A constructive step to minimising confusion and distress for the family is a joint commitment to co-operation and dialogue. If plans need to change, where possible, parents should keep the other parent informed in advance and try to involve each other in discussions as to what will work best for all involved, including finding an alternative. If appropriate, try to also explain the situation to your children so that they understand why their routine is changing.
At Mills & Reeve LLP, we understand that the above is not always easy. If you are experiencing difficulties in contact arrangements or require more detailed, tailored advice and wish to discuss this blog further, please contact a member of the firm’s Family team.