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Co-parenting and Child Arrangements during the Coronavirus outbreak

Published: 29 March 2020

As the government have requested people to observe social distancing, self-isolation and school closures in the UK, our family team are being asked how to best manage co-parenting and child arrangements during the coronavirus outbreak.  

Below are the most commonly asked questions about co-parenting during the coronavirus outbreak.

Will the Courts shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak?

Although Courts are restricting physical attendance, currently, Courts are endeavouring to make alternative arrangements than hearings in person and are attempting to arrange for hearings to be heard remotely, such as telephone hearings and video call hearings. 

Can I just keep the children with me during this time? 

On 24 March 2020, the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice issued the following guidance:-

https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/

In summary, in circumstances where there are child arrangement orders in place regulating where the children will live and with whom they will spend time, these orders will remain in effect and there are consequences for breaching them. 

However, the court's primary concern with regard to contact and living arrangements for a child is the welfare of that child, and parents should bear this in mind when it comes to contact arrangements.  The decision whether a child should move between parents' homes is for the child's parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child's present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.

The best approach is for parents to communicate with each other. If a decision is made not to send a child to the other parent, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain contact between the child and other parent such as Face Time, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, other video connection or if that is not possible, by telephone.

It is important to remember that this is a public health emergency and should not be used as an excuse to alter parenting arrangements. 

If you do not understand a court order or are unsure as to your position, seek the advice of a solicitor.

How does the child get from one parent to the other for drop-offs and pick-ups? 

Many child arrangement orders stipulate how handovers are to take place, but parents do need to communicate as to the practical arrangements at this time.  

For example, if handovers are to take place in a public place, consider trying to agree an alternative , such as one of the parent's homes.  If handovers are typically achieved by dropping off and collecting children from school, consider each parent's work commitments and try to agree matters amicably and in the best interests of the child.

What if one parent tests positive for Coronavirus?

Regardless of whether a child arrangements order is in place if a parent has been tested positive for Coronavirus, the health and safety of the child should be considered first and it may therefore be acceptable for the child not to see that parent during the 14-day self-isolation stage (please check the NHS website for the latest medical information on this).

My child's parent wants to travel with my children overseas despite the outbreak – what can I do?

Most child arrangements orders contain provisions concerning travel, and these should be adhered to. If you are concerned about your children travelling, you should check current government advice and share your concerns with the other parent as to safety.

Where parents share parental responsibility, and there is no court order, both parents should consent to take a child or children overseas. 

If you do not consent, then you can make an application to the court for a prohibited steps order.  That said, you should always try to agree on arrangements with the other parent, and court applications should be the last resort.

What should I do if I cannot pay child maintenance or spousal maintenance as I cannot get into work?

Communication is key. If you don't pay and do not communicate this with your ex-partner they may contact the Child Maintenance Service to seek assistance which may only increase tension.  

If you have a letter from your employer saying your pay will reduce, or a contract saying you only get paid for work done, show this to your ex-partner and try to agree matters between you even if it is a reduced contribution in the interim.

Get in touch 

Ultimately, if you have any queries or unsure of what arrangements should be put in place you are best to see legal professional legal advice from a solicitor.

If you would like any advice on co-parenting during the Coronavirus outbreak and other child law issues please do contact our team on 01332 600 005.