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Essential things you need to know as a separated parent during the coronavirus outbreak

Following the issuing of the full guidance by the Government, we know that this will raise urgent questions for many of those separated parents who…

Following the issuing of the full guidance by the Government on 23 March 2020 we know that this will raise urgent questions for many of those separated parents who are parenting apart.

I have a child arrangements order, what should I do?

The guidance issued by the Government states that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. You should, therefore, adhere to the provisions of any court order unless it is no longer in your child’s best interests to do so, in which case you should seek urgent legal advice. We would recommend that you take a copy of the court order with you when leaving your home.

What if I have an informal arrangement for my child/children to spend time with the other parent?

Again, you should try and continue with the arrangement in place wherever possible. The guidance is not restricted to those parents who have a court order in place.

What if I or a member of my family are self-isolating after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

It is crucially important that you follow Public Health England and the Government’s advice. At the moment (23 March 2020) that advice is that your child or children should isolate along with the individual who is displaying symptoms and other members of their household. Contact your child’s parent and advise them of the situation. You should explain that the usual arrangements for them to spend time with their child/children will need to be suspended for a period of 14 days.

You should endeavour to agree on arrangements for indirect contact during any period of isolation. This can include contact via telephone, FaceTime or Skype, and if possible, it should take place more frequently than direct contact.

What if I decide to self-isolate even if I am not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

As highlighted above, you still need to comply with any court order which sets out the arrangements for your child to spend time with the other parent. You could, however, speak to your child’s parent and ask him or her to manage collection and return whilst you are staying at home. Alternatively, you could invite them to agree in writing that the usual arrangements for them to see their child/children will be suspended on a temporary basis for a set period of time. If, however, agreement in this regard cannot be reached, you should continue wherever possible to facilitate collection and return of your child/children otherwise the other parent could potentially issue a court application to enforce the court order.

See our previous articles for more information: Separating couples: when do we need a court order? and Arrangements for the children – where one party breaches an agreement.

What if I am concerned that the other parent may refuse to return my child at the end of contact?

You may wish to ask them to confirm in writing (email or text is fine) that they have read the Government guidance and will continue to adhere to the terms of the court order. Whilst this is not watertight it could be relied upon as evidence if court proceedings became necessary. We certainly anticipate that the court will take a dim view of any parent who seeks to take advantage of the present situation and deny the other parent time with their child/children without proper justification.

See our previous articles for more information: Separating couples: when do we need a court order? and Arrangements for the children – where one party breaches an agreement.

I am mid-way through a court application, will the proceedings be suspended?

Guidance has been published stating that where possible hearings may take place remotely.

Read the latest advice issued by the family court on 19 March 2020.

Speak to your solicitor as to how this will apply to your case. Please note that things are moving quickly and that this guidance may change.

What if court proceedings become necessary? Will it be possible to secure an urgent court hearing?

Courts are presently prioritising the most serious cases where children are at risk of significant harm. That being said, as highlighted above, many hearings are continuing to take place remotely and each case will be assessed individually on its own merits. Even if it is not possible for your case to be heard on an urgent basis it may be prudent to issue your application sooner rather than later so that your case will be towards the front of any queue as and when the court begins to work through any backlog.

I am seeing my child at a contact centre. Should I carry on doing so?

Please contact the contact centre you are visiting. Many centres are trying to stay open to continue offering their services. If your centre is closed, contact The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) as they will be able to advise as to what services are available locally to you.

Cafcass is preparing a report in my case. Will they still be operating?

Cafcass offices closed on 23 March 2020. However, all of the staff are working remotely. They are investigating the use of WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype in order that they may complete their interviews with children and parents. Cafcass have reassured parents that they are doing their best to minimise any delays that may arise as a result of remote working.

This article was accurate as of 24 March 2020. If the content of this update raises any issues for you, or you would like to discuss, please liaise with Tania Derrett-Smith at tania.derrett-smith@weightmans.com or Rachel Lim at rachel.lim@weightmans.com.

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