This article was authored by Alexandra Tribe.
We understand that guidance from the UK government around the Coronavirus outbreak is changing day by day. However, we wanted to reassure all parents having to co-parent their children in separate households that your concerns are valid and deserve to be listened to. Here you will find information around custody and child contact issues during the coronavirus pandemic.
Current Guidance on child contact
To mitigate any confusion following Michael Gove MP's interview with the BBC on Tuesday morning, the current guidance for child contact arrangements remain that as a general exception to the Stay At Home rules, "where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes". In other words, children under the age of 18 are permitted to move between their parents' homes when they do not reside in the same household.
Varying a Child Arrangements Order
With schools closed and more severe restrictions in place, your children are likely to need the support of both parents now more than ever. Where there are genuine concerns for your children's safety, the Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice for England and Wales has allowed parents to "exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied". This should be done in agreement with both parents. We are therefore encouraging all separated parents to be reasonable and to be compassionate in the current circumstances
Where one parent does not agree that the contact arrangements comply with government advice, the "sufficiently concerned" parent must be prepared and able to justify their unilateral decision to decline to comply with a CAO to the Family Court. Whilst we cannot say how any court will respond in this novel situation, the Judge will always consider whether the decision taken was in the best interests of the children involved. We would also recommend that you contact your solicitor directly should you have any doubts and we will do our best to find a safe and reasonable solution.
How we can help
We can provide advice (via WhatsApp, email, video link or telephone) on your rights at this time. This may be to establish contact with a child, or vary an existing arrangement. We can advise on the options for expatriate families to resolve these children disputes, whether by negotiation, mediation, arbitration or the court process. All of these options can be carried out remotely.
We remain in regular contact with the courts as we await updates on forthcoming hearings. Some hearings will go ahead via telephone or video calling, but you should anticipate that some hearings will be adjourned to a later date. As the situation evolves, your solicitor will endeavor to keep you informed wherever possible of your upcoming hearing. In the meantime, you should continue to prepare as if your hearing is going ahead unless your solicitor tells you otherwise.
We have included a link to the Rt. Hon Sir McFarlane's statement but we would also like to repeat his key message as it represents our continuing stance at Expatriate Law for matters regarding children:
"The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child."
The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane's statement: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. For any further queries or follow up please contact Expatriate Law at firstname.lastname@example.org.