Due to the ongoing Corona Virus Pandemic there has been an increase of the need for parties who are mediating to discuss the effect, this should have, or indeed is having, on their child arrangements.
Although the Government issued guidance to confirm that children of separated parents can move from home to home in order to continue with their child arrangements, this should also be read in conjunction with the Guidance issued by Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, and CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).
The decision about whether children should move from home to home is for the parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances in which the child lives in each home, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals with whom the child lives.
It will not be unusual or unreasonable for one parent to think it is safe, and the other not to, for their children to still move from home to home. However, the key is for parents to ‘communicate their concerns and discuss matters to find a sensible solution’.
Any child arrangements order made by the Court can be varied by both parents agreeing to vary such an order in these circumstances. A note or record of this would be helpful to keep.
In the event parents cannot agree, and one parent takes the decision to unilaterally vary a court order, and the court is subsequently asked to consider that decision, this will be based on whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice, and, the Stay at Home rules in place, at the time, as well as any specific evidence relevant to the child or family.
It is also clear from this guidance that:
In the event arrangements are varied so that a child does not see one parent in the usual way, alternatives should be put in place to maintain some form of contact for example, facetime, whatsapp video, skype, zoom or other visual or at the very least telephone calls.
The pandemic should not be used as a reason by one parent to change plans, unless there is justification in accordance with the above.
In view of the fact that Government guidance and indeed the circumstances of individual families is constantly changing, this therefore should be an issue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis by parents.
The key message appears to be, ‘where corona virus restrictions mean a child arrangements order is varied, the spirit of the order, should still be delivered by making safe alternatives for the child.
If you would like a copy of the guidance issued by Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane and CAFCASS please contact us and we can issue this to you.
Mediation can help parents communicate and discuss such issues, to help them come up with a sensible solution and one which the court are likely to approve of.