The current pandemic and the resulting changes in the way we live our lives is a huge source of anxiety for many parents.

As well as school closures and the added pressures of home schooling, separated families have the additional worry of ensuring their children are able to spend time with both parents.

While all children and families are different, and there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach, Katharine Marshall explores how separated parents can navigate Child Arrangement Orders, given the current government advice to stay at home.

Effective co-parenting

Where a child is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order, parental responsibility, and, therefore, the ability to make decisions relating to that child, rests with the parents and not with the Court. This means that effective and flexible co-parenting will need to be exercised to help deal with child arrangements throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Parents must follow rules relating to staying at home as issued by the Government, as well as adhering to guidance from both Public Health England and Public Health Wales about staying safe and reducing the spread of the virus.

The Government has set out an exception to the stay at home rules, which permits children under the age of 18 to be moved between their parents’ homes. This does not, however, mean that they must continue to move between their parents’ homes.

The decision whether to continue to move children between two households is for the parents to make, hopefully by agreement. Parents would, of course, need to consider their own family’s circumstances, including the health and vulnerabilities of both households.

Communication is key

The need for parents to communicate their thoughts and concerns is crucial in order to come to an agreement.

If both parents are in agreement, they can vary the arrangements set out within a Child Arrangement Order to help deal with the current circumstances. Any agreement made to vary the terms of the order should be recorded in writing in either a note, e-mail or text message exchange.

While not all parents will be able to agree a variation, one parent may consider that full compliance with an order would go against the current COVID-19 advice. In this case, parents are able to use their parental responsibility to make arrangements that they consider to be safe.

In cases where these decisions result in further Court proceedings, the Court will consider whether both parents were acting reasonably and in accordance with the guidance.

The contact, health and welfare needs of a child should remain the focus in any decision to change arrangements. Where face-to-face contact cannot take place – which in some cases may be necessary – alternative forms of contact could include telephone calls, FaceTime and Skype.