‘Who should the child live with?’ is a question that parents going through a separation often disagree on, and trying to come to an agreement is currently made more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerns will usually include:
- Will I be able to see my child?
- Am I potentially breaching a Court Order?
- What steps can I take to keep my child safe?
For parents looking for some clarity, we've created this blog post to explain how Child Arrangement Orders work in light of Covid-19.
What Are Child Arrangement Orders?
Child arrangements can be made informally between separated parents. However, in situations where parents cannot agree, the Courts have the power to make a Court Order stipulating who the child will live with and how often the child spends time with each parent.
When considering whether or not to make an order, the Court's paramount consideration is what is in the best interest of the child. To establish this, the courts take into account what is known as The Welfare Checklist.
Factors considered by the Court as part of The Welfare Checklist:
- The age of the child and any special needs the child may have, including educational, physical and emotional needs.
- The financial situation of both parents to ensure they're able to provide for their child.
- The safety of the child and both parents’ history of mental and physical health. (E.g. Does either parent have a history of previous drug or alcohol abuse?).
- The child's own wishes (if they are able to convey their feelings).
Child Arrangements and Covid-19
The Courts understand the importance of a child having a relationship with both of their parents and have the discretion to grant an order allowing this. However, for separated parents with children, lockdown restrictions have caused concerns.
The government's recommended guidelines state that if someone in your household presents with symptoms of coronavirus then the entire household must self-isolate for 14 days to prevent any further spread of the virus.
What happens if the other parent falls ill when the child is in your care?
Both parents should agree that the welfare and safety of the child is the primary consideration. On 24 March 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane, who is the president of the Family Division, provided the following advice on complying with Family Court and Child Arrangement Orders:
"Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) made by the Family Court rests with the child's parents and not with the court. The country is in the middle of a public health crisis on an unprecedented scale. The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time."
The above guidance was issued alongside the 'Stay at home' rule on 23 March 2020, which states that "where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes". This appeared to be an exception to the government's mandatory rule.
What we can take from the above is that children can move between separated homes as the decision rests with the parents. Parents should make all attempts to comply with existing Child Arrangement Orders; however, communication between parties is encouraged. Parents should make a sensible assessment when moving a child to another home and carefully consider the risks involved; especially where vulnerable parties are involved.