How will coronavirus affect child arrangements for separated parents?


Separated parents will often seek to provide certainty as to when a non-resident parent can spend time with children. Whether this is achieved by informal agreement or by a Child Arrangements Order, it is important for parents that follow these arrangements closely.

However, the spread of COVID-19 has left many questioning how this will affect child arrangements for separated parents.

The current Stay at Home Rules

Due to the unprecedented nature of the current Public Health crisis, parents will be expected to care for their children by taking decisions regarding the arrangements for their child which prioritise their child’s safety.

The Stay at Home Rules issued by the government on 23rd March must be followed by all parents.

The Stay at Home Rules state that it is no longer permitted for a person to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.

How will this affect separated couples?

The Government have issued guidance alongside the Stay at Home Rules to specifically address child contact arrangements.

The guidance says:

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

This does establish an exception to the mandatory Stay at Home Rules, meaning a child can continue to move between both parents’ homes.

However, this does not mean that children must be moved between homes. This decision should be taken by parents by making a sensible assessment of circumstances. Parents should consider:

  • The child’s present health
  • The risk of infection
  • The presence of any vulnerable individuals in either home

Communication is key

As in most cases, the best way for parents to navigate these difficult times will be to communicate with each other about any concerns they may have.

If a parent or child does fall ill or is isolating, it is important to contact the other parent to explain the situation as soon as possible and discuss practical solutions. As always, the health and welfare of the child should always be the key consideration.

Can Child Arrangement Orders be changed?

If both parents are in agreement that the arrangements set out in a Child Arrangement Order (CAO) should be temporarily changed, they are free to do so.

It would be sensible for both parents to make a record of this agreement either in a note or email to each other.

Where parents cannot come to an agreement but one parent is concerned that the CAO arrangements would cause a risk to the health of the child or others, that parent may exercise their paternal responsibility and vary the arrangement to one they consider to be safe.

If the actions of a parent acting on their own are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court at a later date, the court is likely to consider whether both parents acted reasonably in light of the official advice and Stay at Home Rules.

If the non-resident parent cannot have direct face to face contact with the child, alternative contact could be arranged through using Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Although these are not always ideal solutions, they can allow a non-resident parent to maintain their relationship with the child whilst they are isolating.

Speak to our experienced family law team for the advice you need

If you would require any advice on child arrangements our experienced family law team is available to help you.

Our Head of Family Law, Craig J Baldwin has over 37 years’ experience providing specialist professional advice and support.

You can speak to Craig by calling Farnworth Rose today on 01282 695 400.

Or, you can arrange a call-back at a time that suits you by completing our online contact form here.