If your child is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) made by a family court, you may be concerned about your ability to safely meet the requirements of the order during the Coronavirus Crisis.
This practical guide to provides advice and tips to help you co-parent and manage contact arrangements during this unprecedented time.
- All children will be facing disruption to their lives as a result of Coronavirus therefore it is useful to try and maintain a sense of routine (e.g. normal meal and bedtimes) wherever possible. This will help your child feel safe and secure
- Provide your child with facts about what has happened, explain what is going on now and give them clear information about how to reduce the risk of being infected using words they can understand depending on their age. Be careful what you say in front of children and avoid exposing them to constant news coverage
- Parents should provide each other with accurate information about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and discuss and try to agree on what steps they will take to protect their child from exposure. Both parents should be informed immediately if their child is exhibiting symptoms of the virus
- As many court hearings are now taking place remotely and parents are attending court hearing from their home, be extra careful to make sure that your child cannot hear discussions about the court case or any dispute you may have with your child’s other parent
Can my child still travel between households as per the CAO during the Coronavirus Crisis?
- Government guidance states that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parent’s home.
Should I comply with the CAO during the Coronavirus Crisis?
- Parental responsibility for a child who is subject to a CAO made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court. This means that any decisions regarding how to keep a child safe during the Coronavirus Crisis are to be made by the parents
- Where there is a concern regarding a child’s safety during the Coronavirus Crisis parents should try to agree to temporarily vary the contact arrangements set out in the CAO. The agreement should be recorded in writing (e.g. in an e-mail or text message)
- If no agreement can be reached and one parent is concerned that complying with the CAO would be against the Public Health England and Public Health Wales advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the CAO 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
Alternative Contact Arrangements
The present public health crisis is an opportunity for parents to work together constructively.
If one parent does not get to spend time with their child in the usual way alternative arrangements should be made for other forms of contact and substitute arrangements should be as generous as possible.
Parents should try to be creative and imaginative.
Alternatives to direct contact include:
- Video contact using Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom. This can be used to read a story and play a game together
- Parents of older children could consider a watch party – where you gather online to watch a movie or video, commenting and ‘reacting’ in real time
- Children of all ages and older children, in particular, may enjoy making and sharing videos
- If video contact is not possible then contact should be maintained by telephone
- Finally, parents should also not underestimate the pleasure of a letter or card sent by post. Letters can be sent back and forth with drawings and photos.