What are the rules around children moving between homes during social distancing?

We’re all aware of the Government’s current lockdown protocol, where unnecessary travel is restricted and social distancing measures put in place to try and stop the spread of Coronavirus. Whilst in general this advice is straightforward and easy to follow, there are some exceptions to the rules – one of which being the ability for separated parents to continue seeing their children. So what are the exact details of the clause and what does this mean for your situation?

First and foremost, it is important to be aware that the freedom for children to move between homes doesn’t mean that they must do so. The decision whether children are to move between parental homes is for the childrens’ parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances – including present health, risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household.

If you and your co-parent are both well, there is nothing to prevent the normal arrangements largely continuing, albeit with added precautions.

In this blog post, we look at a variety of questions you may have about your rights during this time, covering both informal child arrangements agreed by both parents and those with a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) in place.

In short, Hepburn Delaney advises:

  • Both parents should discuss all the options and put the welfare of the children ahead of any other need. It is always best to come to an agreement together.
  • Parents need to accept that some arrangements may need to change.
  • Going to Court to sort out arrangements should be the final option.
  • The welfare of the children always come first – we cannot say this enough.
  • There are a variety of resources available for support and advice:

Other factors and questions to consider:

Can my children still move between homes even though I live in another town from my ex-partner?

Whilst there aren’t any specific rules on how far you can travel, if you feel that your current arrangement involves extensive movement between households, both parents should try and come to an agreement that limits this travel.

Whatever you both have in place, it’s especially important that your child’s welfare is of first and foremost consideration. This includes making sure that they have contact with both parents regularly – by phone or video call and, where possible, in person – as well as their extended families.

Do we have to continue following our pre-existing arrangements?

Child arrangement orders are binding on both parents and should be followed.  If an order is not followed, then one parent can make an application to the court to enforce that order.

Agreements, whether formal or informal, usually involve children spending time with parents when they are not in nursery or at school.  Arrangements are often divided into term time and school holiday periods.

As both Nurseries and Schools are shut, it may well be that the agreement previously reached is no longer appropriate. Parents should take a measured approach. Unless there is a good reason, it is in the best interests of children to have both parents involved in their life.  If children have been spending time with both parents, then they should continue to do so, if it is safe for them.

Ideally parents will be able to agree a variation to the arrangements for the period when nurseries and schools are closed. Working parents may have to juggle childcare with work and it may be that children can rotate between parents’ homes depending on work commitments.  In these circumstances it would be appropriate to make plans to ‘make up’ the time later.

Although it is open to either party to make an application to the court and ask a Judge to decide about the arrangements for children, this should be a last resort.  If an agreement cannot be reached, we would recommend instructing a specialist family solicitor to advise and to help parents come to an agreement.

Can I still see my children if I am a key worker?

Again, it is expected the parents would come to an agreement on what is best for the children.

For example, if one parent is a key worker and the other is working at home, you may want to arrange for your child to live with the parent working at home during this time if you are concerned that they may be at high risk of contracting Coronavirus. It is about managing the risks and coming to a pragmatic agreement together.

If one parent is better placed to look after the children, you can change the arrangements. However, both parents must agree, and you must put the welfare of your child first. There is nothing to prevent your child living with you, even if you have a Court Order in effect; this is because Court Orders can be changed if both parties agree.

My ex-partner isn’t following the guidelines. Do I have to let them see the children?

If both parents have parental responsibility, you can’t stop one parent seeing the children.

Some parents will be concerned that one parent is using self-isolation as an excuse not to let children spend time with the other parent, and some parents sadly will use self-isolation in this way. Taking such steps is likely to be detrimental for the children. One of the most damaging issues for children is parental conflict and it is highly likely that taking such steps will expose them to a great level of parental conflict.  If parents think that this is an issue, then they should keep a record of requests made and excuses given.

Unless you have solid evidence, it will be extremely difficult to prove if one parent is not adhering to the guidelines. Nevertheless, if you have specific concerns, then we would recommend you contact a specialist Family solicitor to discuss the options.

Should other family members still be seeing the children?

Only those with parental responsibility have the ‘right’ to see your children.  Unless they live with you, the expectation is that both parents will follow the Government advice on COVID-19 self-isolation guidelines.

Taking the children to see the grandparents is not only against the non-essential travel rules, but also increases the risk of them contracting COVID-19, being a vulnerable group.  It is also questionable if it is in the best interests of the children and puts you at risk of prosecution, which will have a negative impact on any child arrangements now or in the future.

You may need to explain to your children that relatives should not be visiting them right now for safety reasons due to Coronavirus. However, it’s important, both for your children and your extended family, to keep in regular contact. This is where video chat software, such as Skype, FaceTime or Zoom, can come in very useful and you should make every effort to use this kind of technology to keep in touch.

How can Hepburn Delaney help?

No matter your situation, there is always a viable solution and the team at Hepburn Delaney are here to help and advise accordingly. We know that now is a particularly confusing time, so if you’re looking for more information around childcare and movement, don’t hesitate to get in touch