Dominic Cummings’ now infamous road trip to Durham saw the nation wrangle with the rights and wrongs of how parents should manage childcare during the coronavirus pandemic. Many separated families have struggled with child arrangements since lockdown. In March, the president of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane issued guidance on the social distancing rules for contact arrangements for separated families as they applied during the strictest phase of the lockdown. The guidance states unequivocally “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
While this guidance established a clear exception to the government’s “stay at home” requirement, that did not mean that children have to be moved between parental homes. Even in the context of today’s more relaxed rules, the decision as to whether a child should move between households is ultimately the child’s parents to take.
In practice, this means that parents should generally be advised to continue to comply with a court order, if you have one, or your agreed routine, provided no one in either household shows signs of having Covid-19 or if they do, doesn’t pose any unnecessary risk for a vulnerable person.
As Sir Andrew’s guidance emphasised, parental responsibility lies with the parents of the children, not with the court. In practice, this means that where the normal arrangements are disrupted, parents should be advised to discuss matters constructively with the aim of agreeing a solution that works for everyone. This does not mean taking advantage of a spurious Covid reason to interrupt contact, as ultimately it is the child who suffers from being prevented from spending time with the separated parent. If there are genuine reasons for coronavirus restrictions, which also may cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the parents should keep to the spirit of the order by making safer alternative arrangements for the child. This might have to be, on a temporary basis, regular video calls instead of meeting in person.
If you have questions about what the arrangements should be for your children in the current climate, consult a family law specialist who will be able to advise you.