Coronavirus and child contact: Update following ‘lockdown’
Further to our previous blog post on this topic, dated Wednesday 18 March 2020, the circumstances have undoubtedly moved on and the Government has now extended the advice and requirements surrounding Covid-19.
It’s important that you keep up to date with the advice from the Government and the NHS and know the current updates, which may impact your current child contact arrangements.
Restrictions on leaving your home and consequences for ‘contact’
On 23 March 2020 the Government published full guidance and new requirements on staying at home and away from others. This can be found here.
The Government has confirmed that, currently “If you work in a critical sector outlined in this guidance, or your child has been identified as vulnerable, you can continue to take your children to school. Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
Accordingly, a child’s ‘contact’ with the parent with whom they don’t live, or a child’s shared care arrangement, does not have to be suspended. Matters will of course differ on a case-by-case basis and may be affected by other factors such as vulnerability of the child/other relevant adults and additional requirements for self-isolation.
Depending upon whether either or both parents are employed in a critical sector or the child has been identified as vulnerable, the child(ren) may or may not still be attending school or other childcare settings. This may in turn require a temporary amendment to the child arrangements.
Please bear in mind that the following venues, which often provide a suitable and child centred space for contact or handovers to take place, are currently closed (you can find out more here):
- indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities;
- Communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms;
- Restaurants and cafes.
You might therefore need to agree with the other parent on a different handover and/or contact location.
You might need to give consideration to contact taking place in the home, if suitable, or whether the daily form of exercise can provide an opportunity for the children to spend time with the parent whose contact is affected (ensuring that such changes are not prohibited by way of an existing court order).
If contact can simply not take place, consider whether FaceTime or video calling can be utilised as a temporary measure.
If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place you may require additional legal advice.
Whilst some parents are considering potential amendments to the current arrangements they have in place, other parents will still be trying to resolve the dispute about child arrangements or be going through the court process.
On 23 March 2020 HMCTS published the document entitled “The Remote Access Family Court: COVID 19”, which sets out guidance about how court hearings may be conducted during the Covid-19 crisis (this can be found here).
In summary, the court will try to hold remote hearings where possible, making the use of appropriate technology, including final hearings and hearings where evidence is required. In this respect, no single software platform is identified and this will be decided on a case-by-case basis between the parties and the judge. Platforms such as ‘Skype for Business’ and ‘Zoom’ have been reported as working successfully to date.
HMCTS have not ruled out some hearings still taking place as ‘live’ hearings or being adjourned where necessary and it is therefore important that you keep up to date and in contact with the court/other side to ensure that you are aware of the various requirements.
At Blacks Solicitors, whilst our team members are working from home we are able to respond to enquiries via email, telephone or video calling.
If you would like more information on any of the above, or would simply like to discuss your child contact concerns, please contact a member of our Family Law team.