In an effort to help parents and family law practitioners, the Head of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane has released guidance to parents to help them navigate these unprecedented circumstances of taking on the role of remote worker, and home-schooler.
It is important to remember that the central focus of this guidance is your child’s welfare, and that managing arrangements for your child will very much come down to your individual circumstances. Seeking advice and guidance from fellow parents can be a helpful guide, but be sure to take a step back and ensure you tailor your approach to your child and your family’s circumstances.
Importantly, the guidance has confirmed that a child may travel between parents living in different households for the purpose of contact. Therefore, if you have a Child Arrangements Order, or an informal agreement with your child’s other parent, the starting point is that the arrangements should continue. Your child then has some ongoing sense of structure, despite school closures.
However, when making (or continuing) arrangements with your child’s other parent, it is important to remain sensible and vigilant. You are unlikely to be criticised by a Judge if you communicate reasonably and honestly with your child’s other parent, and if you act sensibly during this uncertain situation.
For instance, it is advisable to ensure you are in contact with your ex (where possible) to ensure that nobody in either household has symptoms, or is self-isolating. It is also important to consider whether anyone in either household is a vulnerable individual, such that it would not be appropriate for your child to enter the household (or return to it). The definition of “vulnerable individuals” currently includes those who are 70 or older, those who are immuno-compromised any age), and pregnant women.
Beyond this, it is important that both parents respect the Stay At Home Rules issued by the government, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, and that parents keep an eye on government guidance as and when it is updated. If you intend to limit travel between each household, and therefore reduce direct contact, then it is important to consider increasing indirect contact via Skype, FaceTime, and telephone.
Where you are unable to agree with the other parent how best to deal with the current situation, it is important that you act reasonably and with your child’s best interests as your priority.
Your child’s other parent may try to criticise your behaviour if matters return to Court later down the line. However, Judges have received guidance to ensure they look at each parent’s views in light of government advice, as well as specific evidence relating to your child or family (such as health issues, or vulnerable individuals within the family). Therefore, as long as you are sensible in your approach, you are unlikely to come under much criticism from the Courts. After all, your child’s best interests are the most important consideration.
Finally, if you have an ongoing Court case with your child’s other parent, Cafcass have issued a reminder to be vigilant to ensure your child cannot hear discussions about the Court case. They might, for instance, hear Skype or telephone conversations with the other parent, or if your hearing has been listed as a remote hearing such that you are participating in your hearing by Skype or telephone.
If you would like any further information on any of the above, or would like to discuss your particular circumstances and how Knights could help, please contact a member of our Family team.