It is understandable that parents have been extremely concerned about adhering to Court Orders during these unprecedented times, and of course, when they will next be able to see their children.
The Government Guidelines are rapidly changing, and new rules are put in place to ensure the safety of each person, and to attempt to relieve the strain from the NHS.
Each family’s circumstances will differ. The Guidance below is general and has been released as a guideline for separated families to consider when making the necessary decisions about contact arrangements.
- Parental Responsibility lies with the Mother, and the Father (who is named on the birth certificate, or married to the Mother, or has a Parental Responsibility Order in their favour) of the child. It does not lie with the Courts. It is down to the parents to make the decisions in the best interests of the child. If you believe your child, yourself, or someone in your household is at risk, then you should isolate in line with the Government’s Guidelines.
- You must continue to act in line with the Governments ‘Stay at Home Rules’, put in place on 23 March 2020. Under these rules, it is no longer permitted for a “a person, and this includes a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work”.
- Contained in the Stay at Home Rules, is guidance relating to child contact arrangements stating that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parent’s homes”. The guidelines do provide an exception to the ‘Stay at Home Rules’, however it is important to note that this is not mandatory. The Government have stated that you should make a sensible assessment of all the circumstances, and whether this is in the best interests of the child and immediate family around the child during contact. For example, if someone in the household is at high risk, contact should be suspended at this time.
- Separated parents should communicate with one another, and if possible, come to an agreement as to a practical solution. It is understandable that parents who have limited contact with their children will be frustrated, however it must be considered first and foremost, the best way to maintain the child’s safety. Even if one parent believes contact is safe, the other parent may completely disagree and feel genuinely worried about the situation.
- If a Child Arrangement Order is in place, and parents wish to suggest alternative contact arrangements or vary the Order, they are free to so do. To avoid disputes, parents should write this agreement down, by way of email, text message or paper.
- If one parent wishes to vary the Court Order due to sufficient and reasonable concerns, that parent may exercise their Parental Responsibility to vary such Order to ensure the protection of their child, to one they consider to be safe.
- Should this be raised at any Court hearing, the view of the Court would be to consider whether the parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice, along with any evidence relating to the child or the family.
- As noted in our previous blog, parents who are unable to see their children during this time should be offered alternative contact to maintain the relationship, as well as being offered remote contact, whether through Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp or any other video connection. If this is not possible, the parent should be offered contact via telephone.
The overall note is to ensure you act within the best interests of your child to ensure their safety.
Still have questions? Please do not hesitate to contact the Family Team on 01942 206060.