How Does COVID-19 Affect You Pre-Existing Child Arrangements Order
In light of the current national health emergency, many parents will be concerned that it may not be safe to adhere to the terms of a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) that may have been made in relation to their child. On 24th March, the Head of Family Justice, Sir Andrew McFarlane, issued guidance to help parents comply with their child’s CAO given the ‘Stay At Home Rules’ put in place by the government.
First, it is important to note that the government has made it clear that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”, meaning children are not necessarily confined by the ‘Stay At Home Rules’ to remain at the home of only one parent if the parents live separately. This having been said, this does not mean that parents must move their children between homes either. Parents will have to decide for themselves what they think is reasonable and sensible given their specific circumstances. Of course, legal advice from a solicitor may help them to do this.
Where Parents Agree a Variation
The Court’s guidance is that “where parents, acting in agreement, exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied they are free to do so”. Although, the Court does also give the advice that parents should keep a note of their agreement. Furthermore, the Court has suggested that in the instance of an agreed variation of a CAO because of the ‘Stay At Home Rules’, alternative arrangements should be made to maintain regular contact between the child and the parent whose contact has been interrupted, such as by telephone or preferably video connection.
Where Parents Cannot Agree
If parents cannot agree about whether or how “to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current PHE/PHW [Public Health England/Public Health Wales] advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe”. However, if one parent makes a unilateral decision in this regard and the other questions it later during the course of proceedings, the Court will likely take a view on whether it was reasonable and sensible. As with varying a CAO by agreement, the Court has suggested that alternative forms of contact should be arranged to ensure regular contact is maintained between the child and the other parent.
The Court’s key message is: “where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”
Disclaimer – This blog posting contains information on current legal issues applicable at the time of writing. Note there may have been changes subsequently which have not been incorporated into the material. This guide is intended for information purposes only and its content should not be applied to any particular set of facts or relied upon without legal or other professional advice.