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We are now in Lockdown number 3 and in terms of the rules for contact/ access with children concerning separated parents; not much has changed since the first lockdown.
Parents of children who are the subject of court orders by the Family Court may be concerned about their ability to meet the orders safely in the circumstances that we find ourselves in with the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s instruction to ‘stay at home’ and social distance. Under these circumstances, the Judiciary have issued ‘general’ advice on what to do. Last week, Cafcass issued their guidance in respect of their role during these difficult times as well as a useful short guidance regarding any attendance at Court.
Returning to the issue surrounding separated parents and their responsibilities in relation to contact: – In essence, ‘parental responsibility’ lies with the parents of the child, and in the midst of the crisis the expectation is that the parents will act responsibly and sensibly in the best interest of the child. With the general instructions not to be outside for anything other than essential activities and time limited exercise; the Government have said with regard to child contact arrangement “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.” This does not mean that a child must be moved between homes, but that it is up to the parents to make a sensible assessment of the circumstances and the risk to the child’s health.
Parents in agreement on the best interests of the child may vary temporarily a Child Arrangements Order. Where parents disagree about what is in the best interest of the child and the wider family, one parent may take the unilateral decision to temporarily suspend the time the other parent spends with the child. If the actions of a parent are questioned after the event in the Family Court, then the court will examine the actions of the parent to assess whether they were acting ‘reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice’ and the specific circumstances of the child.
If one parent does not get to see their child as set out in a Child Arrangements Order, then the court will expect that alternative arrangements to maintain contact will have been put in place such as video call or at the very least telephone. The court order may not be able to be followed exactly but the spirit of the order should be delivered.
Sousa Law are specialist Family Solicitors in Southampton, and we are committed to offering a helping hand during these difficult times. For further information or advice, please call us on 02380 713 060, or email email@example.com book a free initial consultation with a solicitor.
By Giuseppe Pingerna
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