Last month, government guidelines were announced to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK. As of the 23 March, the public has been told to stay at home apart from necessary food shopping, one form of exercise a day, and work for those listed as ‘key workers’. Part of the restrictions also included not meeting family members who do not share your home.
Understandably, this has raised many questions for separated families and how they are to continue with their current childcare arrangements. If your child spends time between two houses, it is important to know what you can and cannot do at this time.
In this guide, we will cover:
At James & George Collie, our family law team remain available for any concerns you may have at this time. For expert advice tailored to your circumstances, get in touch with one of our specialist family lawyers on 01224 581581.
During the current lockdown, parents can continue to share custody of their children according to the guidance. Travelling between parents’ homes has been classed as essential travel at this time, allowing parents to drop and collect their child without going against government restrictions. It’s important to note the Family Court has reiterated this does not mean you have to move the child between homes should you not think it is safe to do so.
If you currently have a Child Residence or Contact Order with your ex-partner, the terms of the order still hold and should be followed as closely (and safely) as possible at this time. The only reason this should change is where it poses a risk to the child or another person.
At this time, parents should try to communicate openly and honestly with one another if they are concerned about the situation, but always putting the child’s health first as a priority.
Following government guidelines, those who do not live in the same household should not come within a 2-metre distance of one another. As such, parents who live in different homes need to follow these rules when collecting and dropping off children. You should drop the child at the house of your ex-partner or in an open space. You should have no physical contact with anyone from another household, and therefore should not walk the child inside the other parent’s house.
While childcare workers are classed as key workers, this only applies if they care for the children of key workers or vulnerable children. This means that if you have not been listed as someone in a job where your role is essential to the current pandemic, you should not have a childminder at your house.
The government has asked schools and other childcare providers to remain open for children of key workers. If you are worried about sending your child to nursery or school, the government guidance is that anyone without symptoms, or not thought to be vulnerable to the virus, can look after the child.
Many parents would typically rely on grandparents as their primary support for childcare. However, with the ‘high-risk’ category including the elderly, this means grandparents are unable to care for children.
Ultimately, the best thing that can happen is that parents set up an agreement about who is best equipped to look after the child during working hours.
If you start to show symptoms and therefore need to self-isolate, this will affect your current childcare arrangements in place. If the child lives with you and you have to isolate, then following government advice, the entire household would need to isolate. As difficult as this may be for the child, it is important to stick with the measures in place to ensure everyone can stay safe.
A clear advantage in today’s day and age is that there are unlimited means of contacting family members. Trying to organise a video call with the other parent can help the child have face-to-face interaction if your household is self-isolating. Losing contact is the last thing that is wanted at this time, so encouraging such communication means the child can continue to get valued time with each parent.
Any household with high-risk people – including elderly or those with health conditions – should carefully consider what to do about child arrangements at this time. Ensuring you are taking all steps to maintain your child’s health as well as those surrounding the child is vital, and you should therefore use your judgement on whether your existing arrangement is appropriate.
This is a stressful and challenging time for everyone, and nobody wants to feel like they are helpless when it comes to their child. If the other parent is refusing to share custody, there should be a clear and valid reason - whether it is for medical purposes or self-isolation. However, if this is not the case, then any existing arrangements should be followed, or at least virtual time with your child should be encouraged.
If your ex-spouse stops both physical and virtual contact, you may be able to make an application to the court. If you are considering enforcing an existing Child Residence or Contact Order or looking to make an application for a new Child Residence or Contact Order, get in touch with one of our specialist family lawyers for clear and sympathetic legal advice about what you can do at this time.
Family issues are never easy, but under the current restrictions, they can feel even more complex. Child Residence and Contact Orders are put in place to keep a child in contact with each parent, to encourage normality to their daily routine. If you are concerned your ex-spouse is not following through with your existing arrangements at this time without reason, speak with one of our friendly family lawyers today on 01224 581581 or by completing the online enquiry form.
This guide does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If you require specific legal advice, you should contact one of our lawyers who can advise you based on your own circumstances.
Please note this information is accurate as of 28 April 2020 and is subject to change as official guidance is adapted to reflect the implications of the virus.