child covering mouth and nose with hands, COVID-19 and Child Arrangement Orders

With all schools on the verge of closing and with NHS advice being that people should observe social distancing and isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, those parents and others with Child Arrangements Orders in their favour to adhere to are undoubtedly asking themselves how best to deal with issues that now arise that make it difficult to comply with such arrangements.

Many will be questioning how they can comply with an Order that requires them to travel to far off places, or to meet at certain places that might now be recommended to stay well away from and so if the advice from others is that you shouldn’t do certain things so as to stop the spread of Coronavirus, does the Order still need to be complied with?

Ultimately the short answer remains that people are still legally obliged to comply with Court Orders, and if you are to breach any Order, you may be later asked, if an application is later made to enforce the terms of any Order, to justify any breach.

But clearly we are all encountering a really stressful, unprecedented period of time, certainly one that many have near previously encountered and one that the Court is also having to consider and deal wit the first time in living memory.

Whilst wherever possible, any Court Order made should be fully complied with, parents and others with any Child Arrangements Order in their favour, should nevertheless in the first instance try and talk to the other party and if you cannot talk to them, try and communicate through a third party to try and work out a sensible temporary solution that works for the benefit of any child or children concerned so far as then contact is concerned or shared cared is ordered.

Whilst the Family Court might be sympathetic to those that want to self-isolate and with their children during the pandemic, the outbreak should not be used as an excuse to deliberately sever and cut all contact and arrangements and deny all forms of contact from taking place.

Even if a Court Order specifics the when, where and how contact should take place, parents can and should try wherever possible, agree on how best to vary the Order so that contact can take place.

If the other parent has to miss out on direct contact time, then give consideration as to whether then that missed time can be made up in some other way once the emergency situation is over.

Consider whether Skype, Facetime or other video calling is available as an alternative can be used as a temporary solution. Whilst no substitute for face to face contact, video conferencing should be considered as a temporary measure to allow for some contact to take place and telephone contact should also be considered.

The Family Court will expect that any parent that is isolating themselves and then in turn their children in accordance with best advice given by the NHS to make every effort to ensure that the child continues to have a relationship with the other parent, even if that cannot be face to face.

If alternative temporary arrangements are to be put in place, it is recommended that everything is documented say by email, so that then this can be evidenced if required later to show to others that you did your very best to have a sensible, practical discussion about what to do in the present climate and what then was agreed on, or not, as the case may be. If the Court is asked to consider whether any Order has been breached, such written evidence may be beneficial to support why this was necessary and reasonable without having taken the matter back to Court first to consider.

If the matter were to return to the Family Court, on any application, the person in breach potentially of any Order will need to be able to justify why any breach was justified in the circumstances.

Whilst many no doubt will be thinking that the current pandemic is a good reason to stop child arrangements, Coronavirus shouldn’t be used as an automatic means to disregard any Order of the Court and in all cases, you should put any past hurt, concerns or issues with a former partner to one side and really focus on what is in the child’s best interests or welfare as much as possible.

If you are parent or carer who for whatever the present reasons might be, have issues with contact arising from the Coronavirus pandemic, please contact Andrew Wraith, Solicitor, at Prism Family law for more information on 0191 269 6871 or email [email protected] for help.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.