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How Coronavirus will affect split families

Separated parents who share the care of their children may be understandably concerned about their child’s safety, health and well-being during the current outbreak and may be wondering how Coronavirus will affect split families.

Many children of separated parents are the subject of Court orders which formally set out the arrangements for their care, which can be specific as to which days of the week, holiday periods etc are spent with which parent. Other parents may have entered into parenting plans or simply informally agreed the time that each spends with the children.

Non-compliance with children orders, for example where one parent does not make the child available to spend time with the other parent at the allotted time, can lead to serious consequences including fines, contempt of court or orders for the parent in breach to carry out unpaid community work.

However, the current advice, and whether those measures would be imposed given the current situation, is far from clear.

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Government Minister Michael Gove retracted his comment made on ITV’s Good Morning Britain this week – where he stated that children should remain in the household that they are in. He has now clarified, and the Government has published in its guidance, that children under the age of 18 moving between parents’ homes may do so. The government’s guidance is therefore to continue with current agreed or ordered child arrangements.

The President of the Family Division of the Courts of England & Wales has also issued guidance. This largely reiterates the government guidance, but caveats that it is only general advice, responsibility cannot be abdicated to the Courts and parents are expected to make decisions regarding their child whilst acting sensibly and safely. The guidance states:

‘The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after 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 the other.’

He goes on to state that parents should attempt to agree interim arrangements where possible. Where that is not possible, and one parent is ‘sufficiently concerned’ that complying with arrangements would be against the current Public Health England/Wales advice, that parent may vary the arrangement to one they consider to be safe. The other parent has the right to question those decisions via the Family Court.

It is, therefore, as with all matters involving children, going to come down to what is objectively considered to be in that child’s best interests. This is a difficult decision to make and involves a detailed look at a number of factors.

For legal assistance with child arrangements or for any queries with regard to how Coronavirus will affect split families, please contact us.

Having graduated in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in law from the University of Bedfordshire, Holly has since been exploring her interest in Family Law. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate LPC and masters course to qualify as a family solicitor. Holly joined Hawkins Family Law in August 2017. She has previously volunteered with public legal advice services and currently is enjoying a new challenge having recently begun a paralegal role at Hawkins Family Law.

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