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West Midlands Police Federation

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Child arrangements during lockdown

23 July 2020

The country was placed into lockdown in Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on 23 March 2020 and this new regime only allowed people to leave their homes for one of four reasons:

1. Exercise once a day
2. Necessary travel to/from work
3. Essential shopping
4. Medical/care needs

Government guidance provides an exception to the stay at home requirement by confirming that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane issued guidance confirming that just because children could move between their parents’ homes this didn’t mean that they should; any decision about what was in a child’s best interests was a decision that should be made by those with parental responsibility rather than the court. If the actions of a parent in stopping contact are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court will look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the Government advice in place at that time.

Cafcass also issued advice, ‘unless you or your child has any underlying health condition or other vulnerability, transporting them from one home to the other would usually be a legitimate journey’.

The starting point when considering arrangements for your children is that suspension of any existing arrangements should be a last resort. Whether these arrangements are set out in a Child Arrangements Order or not, if your children are in a routine of seeing both parents, the suspension of that time will have an impact on them.

We’ve set out below some questions that we’ve been asked during these times, for useful guidance:

Can I stop contact between my children and their other parent?

Stopping contact between your child and their other parent should be a last resort. Whether there’s an order or not, these arrangements have been considered to be in your children’s best interests and therefore any change to these should only be made where you consider there are serious concerns, such that continuing the arrangements would risk your children’s welfare. If there are alternative ways that contact can continue safely then these should be explored. If arrangements contained in a court order are changed without agreement, an application for enforcement can be made to court.

Top tips when contact arrangements have been suspended

If direct contact can no longer take place between a parent and their children, there are a number of ways in which you can continue to play an important role in their lives whilst you’re not seeing them face to face:

  • Video calls – these should be encouraged as much as possible so that conversations can continue between children and their parents.
  • Online games – there are a wealth of resources online which allow parents and children to play online games together. This could be done alongside a video call.
  • Reading bedtime stories – you could record yourself reading a bedtime story to your children so this can be played to them in the evenings.
  • School work – it’s important that both parents are taking an active role in their children’s schooling whilst they’re at home. Keep up to date with ParentMail or directly with the children’s school. These can be the basis of conversations on video calls and you can involve yourself in some of their school work.
  • If contact can take place face to face but they can’t travel to your home or stay overnight and if they’re old enough, you could go on a bike ride/walk together ensuring that social distancing guidelines are being followed.

The most important thing to remember is that any involvement in your child’s day to day life will reassure them that you’re safe and well, even when you’re not seeing them and will continue to remind them of the importance of your relationship.

If there’s a dispute between parents about what level of contact should be taking place, don’t involve your children in these discussions. They’ll already be anxious about what’s going on and the impact on their lives, so don’t worry them with adult issues.

What can I do if contact has stopped without my agreement?

The first thing to do is to ensure there’s consistent indirect contact (video calls/emails) between you and your children. Make sure they know that there’s nothing for them to worry about and that they can see and speak to you over video calls. You should then seek legal advice from one of our expert lawyers to discuss your options.

If you’d like specialist advice from a family lawyer please contact Slater and Gordon on 0808 175 7710 and we’ll be happy to help.

Diary

October 2020
M T W T F S S