The world is currently facing an extremely uncertain time as people all over the globe grapple with the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus. It is no secret that this virus has affected everyone, in every way, as they go through the motions of their day to day lives. In particular, for many separated families government measures requiring social distancing and periods of isolation have inadvertently sought to complicate ongoing child arrangements. For instance, many people will query whether individuals and children can ‘stay home and stay safe’ when a Court Order requires them to have contact elsewhere on a regular basis?
There is no doubt that this is an unprecedented time and there is minimal guidance from the courts on how to handle this. However, as always, it is hoped that parents can come to an agreement in relation to ongoing arrangements that takes into account the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately, however, agreement will not always be possible and the onus will be on one party to make a unilateral decision to stray away from regular arrangements in order to safeguard their child/children. Ultimately, if one party makes the decision to vary the terms of a Child Arrangements Order and this is later challenged, it is likely that the Court will consider whether the decision was reasonable.
What is reasonable in the circumstances will depend on many different factors (ie, pre-existing medical conditions, living arrangements, employment, exhibited symptoms, etc) and therefore it is almost impossible to provide one size fits all recommendation. However, the government has provided the following guidance which seeks to highlight the importance of providing increased indirect contact to parents when arrangements have been varied:
“The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”
This guidance encourages parties to work together to uphold the intention of any order as much as possible, even when the circumstances make this difficult.
It is understandable that the disruption caused to ongoing arrangements will be frustrating for many separated parents, however, in these uncertain times it is vital that all individuals make sacrifices in order to keep everyone, including any children, fit and healthy.
The ongoing situation is complicated, and we would therefore urge parties affected by the above to seek independent legal advice in order to protect them as they navigate this uneasy terrain.
If you need more information in relation to the above, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family Department who would be happy to assist.
Please note that this information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking full legal advice on specific facts and circumstances