Since late March, the country has been in lockdown. Initially, this presented many separated parents with a great deal of uncertainty with regards to their contact arrangements.
The government were quick to announce an exception to the restrictions on movement, being that children could move between their separated parents’ homes – but this did not mean the child must move between homes. Again, this created problems, this time for those parents who had court orders. The Courts went further to set out their own guidance which indicated that orders should be adhered to unless there are very good reasons for contact not to happen to keep the child safe.
The government has taken the decision to bring together both pieces of advice in one document. The “Coronavirus: Separated Families and Contact with Children in Care” paper was published on 2nd June 2020. This document not only covers the situation in private law cases, but also in cases involving the Local Authority. The document is helpful in saying that a parent can travel to stay overnight with a child in their home. Obviously, that can only happen with the parent whose home it is. For children in care, it states that Local Authorities should have facilities within the child’s home for contact to take place or, where there is no suitable place within the home, then alternative arrangements, such as telephone contact, should be offered.
The main message to come out of the guidance is that contact should be taking place. If contact is stopped, then the parent / Local Authority stopping contact is likely to have to justify their position to the Court at a later stage. In those cases, where it is deemed unsafe because of a medical condition for example, then the spirit of the order should be followed to ensure that the child’s relationship with the parent who they should be spending time with is not damaged. This can, and often will, mean additional indirect contact.
The guidance is a welcome development and will hopefully clarify the position to many parents during the current outbreak.