As England enters a second lockdown, many parents are wondering how it will impact on current contact arrangements that have been either been agreed between them or ordered by the Court.
The Guidance set down by the Government in March 2020 was clarified by the President of the Family Division of the High Court (England and Wales), who noted that it did not mean children must move between homes, rather that this was a decision for parents to take after assessing their circumstances.
It is worth considering what this now means in reality for thousands of families where children are moving between two homes.
Can children move between the homes of separated parents?
From 5th November 2020, in England, one of the exceptions to the rule of individuals not leaving their home, or being away from the place where they live without reasonable excuse, included implementing arrangements for children where a child does not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents.
The decision to send a child for contact will normally rest with its parents, after they have assessed the situation. This includes considering the child’s present health, any risk of infection and whether they will come into contact with a recognised vulnerable individual in the household they live in or in their other home.
Sensible discussions should take place and alternative methods of remote contact should be considered such as Facetime or Skype, where it is deemed face to face contact should not take place.
Rules regarding children required to self-isolate
As children continue to attend school during the second lockdown, parents may receive notification from the school if their child has been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for coronavirus.
If that happens, the adult must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that their child self-isolates for fourteen days. Although there is a list of exceptions setting out when a person may leave their home when self- isolating, visiting a parent with whom the child does not live is not specifically listed as a reason why a self-isolating child should leave the house.
If it is not possible to adhere to a Court order due to self-isolating, the spirit of the order should be followed by making alternative arrangements to maintain regular contact during that period.
How should parents comply with Court Orders for contact?
When a parent has obtained a Child Arrangements Order regulating where a child lives and how much contact they have with the non-resident parent, they will know that it carries a warning notice explaining the consequences of failing to comply with that Order. If the Order is breached, a party can apply to the Court for enforcement.
As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, guidance states that parents, acting in agreement, are free to decide that the arrangements in a Court Order should be temporarily varied. However, what do you do when there is no agreement to vary?
In such situations, where one parent is concerned that complying with the Order will be against the current government advice, then that parent may exercise parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to ones which they feel are safe.
If a Court application is made questioning that parent’s decision, the Court is likely to consider whether that parent acted reasonably and sensibly, taking into account the particular circumstances of both the child and the family. If contact is not taking place, the Court will expect alternative arrangements to have been put in place to maintain regular contact remotely.
How are child maintenance payments impacted?
There are generally three forms of child maintenance: informal, Court-ordered and statutory, organised by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
When an informal arrangement is set up between parents regarding child maintenance, in the first instance any changes to payments should be discussed between the resident and paying parent.
If, on the other hand, maintenance is made in accordance with a Court Order, the individual affected should seek specialist legal advice to discuss their options
In respect of payments through the CMS, adjustments for any paying parents will be made if their gross weekly income has changed by 25%. This continues to remain the case during the coronavirus outbreak. If you are concerned about paying, you should contact the CMS to discuss your situation.
Every family will have different circumstances and it is important to deal with any difficult issues relating to contact sensibly and reasonably. There may be times when this may not be possible, however, and if matters cannot be agreed, you may require specialist legal advice to assist you further.
If you are having difficulties with contact or would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact a Family Solicitor at Spratt Endicott Solicitors and they will be able to provide clear and concise advice tailored to your circumstances.
Sobiah Hussain us a Solicitor in Spratt Endicott’s Family Law practice, she can be contated at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Disclaimer: While everything has been done to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this article, it is a general guide only. It is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be sought in relation to the particular facts of a given situation. The information is accurate at date of publication, 9th of November 2020 .