With the announcement that England will once again go into lockdown from 5th January until mid-February 2021 at the earliest, many separated parents may feel anxious about what lies ahead.
The country first went into lockdown in March last year, with arrangements being somewhat relaxed from autumn 2020. Whilst no official guidance has yet been delivered in relation to this latest announcement, given the lockdown mirrors that which was put in place last March, it is likely the government will adopt a similar approach when looking at separated families.
Following the initial lockdown, 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. This created problems for those parents who had court orders regulating contact. The Courts went further by setting their own guidance indicating that orders should be adhered to unless there were very good reasons for contact not to happen to keep the child safe.
The guidance was collated in a document called “Coronavirus: Separated Families and Contact with Children in Care” published on 2nd June 2020. The document covers not only situations in private children cases, but also cases involving children under the care of the local authority. The document is supportive of parents in allowing them to travel enabling a child to stay overnight with them. Obviously, this can only happen between parents’ own homes.
The fundamental message resulting from the guidance is that contact should continue to take place. If contact is stopped, then the parent 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, result in additional indirect contact.
It is vitally important parents ensure their children’s relationships with each of them is not impacted during the pandemic.
Once the government has produced their updated guidance, should the guidance change, we will communicate this to you.