How Will Coronavirus Impact Child Arrangement Orders?

Please note that this article was produced on 25th March 2020 at 12:10pm, and is subject to change in line with the daily Government announcement.

Parents whose children are subject to a Child Arrangement Order have concerns over what they must do given the Government’s announcement to ‘stay at home’ in terms of following the arrangements under a court Order and are seeking advice on what will happen if they temporarily suspend the arrangements.

The Government guidance that was issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on the 23rd March 2020 states that ‘’Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents homes’’. Therefore, where it is safe to do so, both parents should try and maintain the arrangements under the Order.

A recent statement by the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Sir Andrew McFarlane, provided more definitive guidance on the subject. Within his statement Sir Andrew McFarlane said that a child’s parents must make a sensible assessment of the circumstances, to include the child’s present health, risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individual in one household or another. Parents should communicate their worries and what they believe would be a good and practical solution.

Most parents are concerned over the consequences of not abiding by the Child Arrangement Order and the possibility of one parent sadly taking advantage of the situation to prevent the child having contact with the other.

If both parents come to an agreement, then they are able to exercise their parental responsibility to temporarily vary the existing Child Arrangement Order; we would advise that both parties keep a record of any agreement made.

Where parents cannot reach an agreement and one parent has serious concerns over the health and welfare of the child, then they can exercise their Parental Responsibility to temporarily suspend contact. If the other parent questions the actions of the parent who exercised their Parental Responsibility at the Family Court, the court will consider whether the parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the Official Government Advice and Stay at Home Rules.

If there is a genuine reason why direct contact cannot take place such as isolation, then it would be advisable that an agreement is made for indirect contact to take place between the child and the other parent via electronic means such as FaceTime or telephone calls to maintain regular contact during this period.

At present, hearings at the Family Court are still going ahead and are being arranged where possible to take place via electronic means, such as by telephone or video call.

We at JNP Legal understand that this is an uncertain and difficult time for parents and our experienced and accredited Family Law Team will support you through the process.

We are offering telephone appointments for any new and existing clients and we can be contacted on 01685 350421 and 02920 763211