The government guidance states that it is still permissible for children with separated parents to move between their parents homes. This is whether there is a Court Order in place or whether the arrangement is a voluntary agreement between the parents. But what happens if parents cannot agree about the arrangements, for example because someone in one of those households is a key worker or displaying symptoms of the virus?
These are unprecedented times and so it is too early to tell whether parents will face criticism later on for the decisions they make now regarding these issues.
The critical point to keep in mind is that the welfare of the children is the most important factor. The government guidance needs to be considered in conjunction with other relevant factors relating to the child’s welfare – such as whether the child is likely to suffer any harm and whether a parent has the ability to meet the child’s needs.
If parents cannot agree about the arrangements during this pandemic period, they may still be able to access mediation services to help them resolve matters. Mediation meetings can be conducted by video or audio conference call. Whilst the Family Courts are continuing to operate, they are only dealing with urgent issues. It is therefore unlikely, unless a child is at risk of immediate harm, that parents will be able to access Courts to help them resolve their difficulties.
It can be difficult to co-parent at any time but Covid-19 is presenting new, challenging issues for those already struggling to agree on their child arrangements. Whatever decisions are made, the welfare of the children is the most important factor. The usual arrangements should only be disrupted if, for example, they are likely to cause harm to the child, either because they may be placed at greater risk of catching the virus themselves (or passing it to another household member) or because one of the parents is too unwell to properly care for the child. If parents withhold contact with the other parent for no justifiable reason, they may well face criticism later on.
For more information on the article above please contact Emma Mackay or visit the Coronavirus/ COVID-19 area on our website.