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What does Tier 4 mean for separated parents?

An overview of the updated Tier 4 restrictions and how they might affect families.

Following the expansion of Tier 4 restrictions announced by the health secretary today, here is a reminder of what Tier 4 means for separated parents.

What does Tier 4 mean?

You cannot leave or be outside of your home unless you have a reasonable excuse. You cannot meet people indoors unless you live with them or they are part of your support bubble. Outdoors you can only meet one person from another household.

Childcare bubbles can still be used in Tier 4 areas but only if reasonably necessary for the purposes of childcare where there are no reasonable alternatives.

Who is eligible to form a support bubble?

The rules changed on the 2 December to widen eligibility for forming a support bubble:

  • Adults who live alone, even if you have carers who visit to provide care, or single parents with or or more children under 18 as at 12 June 2020, known as a ‘single-adult household’
  • You are 16 or 17 years old living with others of the same age and without any adults
  • You live with someone with a disability who requires continuous care and there is no other adult living in the household
  • You live with a child aged under one year, or who was under one on the 2 December 2020
  • You live with a child aged under five years, or who was under five on the 2 December 2020 who has a disability and requires continuous care

If you fall into one of the categories above you can, if you wish, form a support bubble with another household of any size. Once in a support bubble, the government guidance says you can think of yourself as being in a single household with people from the other household, meaning you can have close contact with that household as if they were members of your own household which includes overnight stays without needing to stay two meters apart and visiting outdoor public places together. Once you form a support bubble you cannot change who is in your bubble. You cannot form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.

Can I change my support bubble?

From 2 December you can change your support bubble provided that:

  • The other household is not already part of a support bubble which they plan to remain a part of
  • Your household or the one with which you intend to form a new support bubble meet the rules as set out above
  • If you decide to change your bubble, you need to treat your previous bubble as a separate household for 10 days before forming your new bubble, which means following the rules on meeting people for the tier you are in
  • If someone in your previous support bubble develops symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive up to 48 hours after members of the support bubble last met, then all members of the bubble have to self-isolate for 10 days. You cannot form a new bubble until the self-isolation has finished.

What if I am separated from the other parent – do the rules differ?

The regulations - The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 - were updated on 20 December.

The position for handovers of children between separated parents is still the same as it has been since March 2020. If you share child care arrangements with someone you do not live with, the child can move freely between both parents’ households. You do not need to form a support bubble with the other parent to be able to do this. 

Even if one parent lives in a Tier 4 area and you live in a lower tier (1-3) it will make no difference to handovers of children for the purposes of contact where you are separated, as it can still take place.

What about childcare bubbles – are they still permitted even under Tier 4?

From the 2 December childcare bubbles were permitted in all tiers.

You may be able to form a childcare bubble and these are distinct from support bubbles. If you are eligible to form a childcare bubble then you can have two bubbles, one childcare bubble and one support bubble with different households, so your childcare bubble might include a grandparent and your support bubble might include a friend for example.

Childcare bubbles should be used exclusively for the purposes of childcare; you cannot meet up socially with your childcare bubble. You cannot meet members of your childcare bubble and support bubbles at the same time unless otherwise permitted by gathering limits outside in your tier.

No household should be part of more than one childcare bubble. If you form a childcare bubble it is best if this is with a household who lives locally as this helps to prevent the virus spreading between areas.

Am I eligible to form a childcare bubble?

If your child is 13 or under, you will be eligible to form a childcare bubble to provide informal childcare in either or both of the homes from the two households or outdoors. Informal childcare means it is unpaid and unregistered and it applies where the child’s parent or regular carer is not present to look after them, for example, if they have to go to work. Once all the children in a household are aged 14 years or above, the childcare bubble must cease.

For further information or support in navigating this issue, contact our child law solicitors.

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