In the Farnfields Family Team, we are aware that there is currently lots of conflicting advice about the arrangements for children to spend time with separated parents. We are here to help you and have brought together in this article guidance from CAFCASS and the Family Court.
The key points are:
Keeping a sense of routine will help your child to feel safe and secure. Whilst your child’s school may be closed, consider sticking to normal meal and bed times and any other family rituals your child takes comfort in – for example movie night or reading a book together before bed.
Unless there are justified medical / self-isolation issues, children should also continue to spend time with each of their parents. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place this should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others at risk. This will help your child to stay in their normal routine, whilst also reassuring them that the parent they don’t always live with is safe and healthy.
If you can’t maintain your child’s normal routine, then communicate clearly and honestly with their other parent. If it is not safe for you to communicate directly (for example if there has been a history of domestic abuse) then consider using a trusted third party to help you.
Think creatively about how you can support your child to stay in touch with their other parent and family members during any period of self-isolation. Skype and Facetime can be great ways to catch up and can be used to read stories, sing and play together. With older children you could also consider a watch party – where you gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and ‘reacting’ in real time.
If any court directed spending time arrangements are missed, think about how you and your co-parent may be able to ‘make up’ your child’s time after the restrictions are lifted. Remember, any rearranged spending time arrangements should always be for your child’s benefit and should not be used as a source of tension or conflict – especially at a time when your child is likely to be feeling anxious about the effects of the pandemic.
Be extra vigilant when making sure that children cannot hear discussions about the court case or any dispute you may have with your child’s other parent. This is particularly relevant now as they are at home and there may be court hearings by skype / telephone. Exposing children to these disputes can result in them feeling confused, having divided loyalties and may harm them emotionally.
Unless you or your child has an underlying health condition or other vulnerability, transporting them from one home to the other would usually be a legitimate journey (based on the current government guidance).
The President of the Family Courts in England has also issued some advice, which very much reflects the points made by CAFCASS, and emphasises that:
- It is for the parents of a child subject to a Child Arrangements Order to decide whether it is safe to move any child between parental homes. The parent must make 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 another.
- Where parents agree to temporarily vary any arrangements made by the court they are free to do so but should record the decision to do so in an email or text between themselves.
- If an agreement about changes cannot be reached, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the Court-ordered arrangements would be against current Public Health advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
If you would like any further advice or clarification, please do contact our Family team to discuss your specific requirements. We are here to help you.