Coronavirus Lockdown and its impact on Childcare Arrangements

Following the lockdown restrictions imposed by the UK Government, a number of questions have arisen regarding children of separated parents. Here we bust the confusing grey areas to leave you feeling assured about where you stand:

1. Government Guidance

On 23 March the UK Government brought in new measures regarding social distancing – otherwise described as Staying At Home And Away From Others Regulations. Everybody in the UK most comply with these measures and all relevant authorities have the right to enforce them. These measures are:

  • Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes.
  • Closing certain businesses and venues.
  • Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.

Specific advice regarding child contact arrangements were issued alongside the above regulation:

  • “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”

2. Parental Communication and Decision Making

Whilst children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes, it doesn’t mean they must. Parents should assess their personal circumstances and make a sensible joint decision. Factors to consider include the child’s current health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals present in either household.

3. Child Arrangement Orders “CAO” – parents in agreement

If parents are in agreement, they are free to exercise their parental responsibility to temporarily vary the arrangements set out in the CAO to accommodate a sensible solution during these difficult times. It is always advised to make a note of this on email, text or similar and share with each other.

4. Child Arrangement Orders “CAO” – parents not in agreement

In cases where parents are unable to agree to vary the terms of the CAO, if one parent believes complying with the CAO is contrary to Public Health England/Public Health Wales current advice, they can exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one they believe is safe. This may be questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, who will consider if the actions were responsible and sensible in light of the Social Distancing rules, along with any additional information relating to the specific child. The Court will consider if the actions were responsible and sensible in light of the Social Distancing rules, along with any additional information relating to the specific child.  That parent may seek to return the case back to the Court to resolve this issue.

The Court would also expect alternative arrangements to be made in order for the child and parent to continue a relationship remotely – Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom or any other video-conferencing application.

5. Court Hearings

The Courts are currently conducting hearing by way of an audio or video link.

If your hearing cannot be conducted via an audio or video link it might be relisted at a different venue as the Government as decided to consolidate the work of Courts into fewer buildings. We will provide you with specialist advice on whether your hearing is going ahead as the Courts and Judges are providing much closer liaison with firms of solicitors during this challenging time.

6. CAFCASS

From 23 March all CAFCASS offices are closed. Skype appointments and interviews are now being conducted, along with other video conferencing applications. Direct work sessions with children and young people are also being conducted in this manner.

For any further information on family law matters, please e-mail us at info@btmk.co.uk or by telephone on 03300 585 222 where a specialist member of our team will be able to guide you through these complex provisions.

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